At the start of the show, the house lights go down and the curved screen at the back of the stage lights up with the face of a man named Lee Rifield. See, Rifield is the man who got Mitch Albom — yes, the guy who has written stories for the Detroit Free Press and novels like Tuesdays with Morrie — to finally write a musical about hockey, an idea Albom had brought up years prior.
Unfortunately, as noted in Albom’s playwright note in the program, Rifield died before really seeing the show take off, and now each night is dedicated to him. But while the show may start on a slightly somber note, Hockey - The Musical! then skates right into hilarity.
The 90-minute show with no intermission makes it clear there will be a lot of songs right from the get-go, when Guy (Andrew Burton Kelley) bursts onto the stage singing “Hook, Hook, Hookey Goodbye.” Guy, pronounced “gee” — it’s French — has been assigned by God to choose a sport to get rid of forever, because there are just too many. Guy selects hockey, which doesn’t sit well with Stanley (JJ Hoss). Stanley then begs for the chance to save his beloved sport and is told he must find five pure hockey fans who can prove to God that hockey is worth saving. How those five are selected is a hilarious miscommunication, that I won’t spoil. The quintet then goes on an adventure to save hockey, which includes advice from hockey legends, like Pavel Datsyuk and Steve Yzerman. The show has 20 songs in total, a number of which Albom did the music and lyrics for.
Albom defines the show as a musical/comedy/farce, and writing it as a farce plays extremely well. It allows the actors to take everything to 11, which is done tremendously by Hoss and Kelley, who each play dual roles in the show. Both men immerse themselves in each of their characters so much that it takes some time before you realize these are the same actors. Hoss and Kelley, as Stanley/Terry and Guy/Jagger, respectively, show what a farce is at its greatest: over the top in everything from the simplest mannerisms and movements to the way they speak. Hoss is also the show’s vocal star, and really gets to showcase his range and power during “God Is A Canuck.”
Watch for Shane O’Connor too, who is wonderfully weird as Stevie. O’Connor’s Stevie is the perfect portrayal of a friendly pothead, and I mean that in the most flattering way.
The plot may be a little thin, but Hockey the Musical isn’t trying to be the next Ragtime or Hamilton. It’s a show that wants to talk about hockey and why it’s awesome, and it does both of those things effortlessly with the script and music.
Despite all the hockey jokes throughout, Albom also makes the show feel accessible to those who don’t know much of anything about the sport. He has jokes that are very Michigan specific, and some sly political and racial commentary to be on the lookout for. There are plenty of enjoyable moments for those who love Broadway as well, ranging from the choreography, which often times feels like an homage to Broadway classics, to one of the show’s running gags about having to pay very expensive royalties for Broadway hits.
A cop, played by Patrick Wallace — one of four ensemble members who really do a bit of everything throughout the show — runs out every time the group starts up on a popular hit, telling them they don’t have it in the budget. This is, after all, a musical about hockey. One example of this bit is when the opening notes of The Sound of Music’s “Do-Re-Mi” cue up. This particular instance is met by Wallace yelling about not wanting the von Trapp family to sue. The joke is used repeatedly, and it lands every single time.
Daniel C. Walker’s lighting design mixed with Alison Dobbins’ video design add another layer to a bare-bones set. Walker’s lighting often takes the shape of a hockey rink, giving viewers the feeling of being at one without there actually having to be ice or boards on the stage. Without Dobbins’ video work, the songs wouldn’t be as much fun to watch, as there is often running commentary on the screen, especially during “O, Can I Duh?”
The show might not have had the budget for songs from shows like West Side Story or Les Miserables, but it doesn't need them. During the talkback after the performance, Albom said that this show was a labor of love for him, and that’s clear to the audience in every element. Maybe “Love Is All You Need” for a show like this. Wait, how much do Beatles royalties cost?
Hockey - The Musical!