“The Abominables,” the incisive, Minnesota-made hockey-themed musical that premiered Friday at Minneapolis’ Children’s Theatre, may be this season’s bittersweet hit.
The sadness comes from the fact that composer and lyricist Michael Friedman died six days before his show premiered, robbing him of the chance to tweak and improve his work even as it enchants audiences.
But there’s lots of sweetness surrounding the work itself, directed by book writer Steve Cosson in a collaboration with his troupe, New York-based the Civilians.
A winning achievement, “Abominables” is engaging, funny and insightful. The show zeroes in on youth sports, a subculture where investment, expectations and pressures have forced things out of bounds.
In “Abominables,” hockey player Mitch Munson (Henry Constable) has dreams of getting to the pros. But first he has to make his school’s A team. At tryouts, his friends move up but not him. Mitch makes the B team.
A mysterious outsider, Harry (Ryan Colbert), wins a spot on the A team of the Prairie Lake Blizzards. For Mitch, it feels like death.
For his devotedly intrusive mother, Ellen (Autumn Ness), it’s also a tragedy. She will lose the company of A-team moms and their regular outings for chocolate mocha martinis.
Mitch, with some aid from his family, becomes a mean boy who works to sabotage Harry, first by trying to find rules to disqualify him and then by saying things that fill Harry with self-doubt.
The production brims with talent. Colbert, who stands more than 6 feet tall, brings innocence and honesty to Harry. He imbues his outsider character with heart and vulnerability.
Constable was more sure-footed in his acting than singing on opening night, but he acquitted himself well in the tough role of a mean boy.
The adults around the central characters are a hoot. Bradley Greenwald and Elise Benson are riotously funny as Harry’s mountain-climbing parents, who move to Minnesota for their son, pumping him full of their own dreams. Their eager-beaver, overachiever air is matched by Ness, who performs her helicopter-parent character with gusto. Actor Reed Sigmund plays father Munson, a man trying to rein in expectations, with more reserve, and Stephanie Bertumen finds comic gold playing several A-team moms who brag while pretending to care.
“Abominables,” which sends up Minnesota mores around niceness, also has a surfeit of cuteness. Actor Natalie Tran, who plays ignored middle child Tracy Munson, has been a standout at the theater. But newer talents Valerie Wick, who plays Mitch’s little sister, Lily Munson, and Alejandro Vega, who plays Harry’s much ignored younger brother Freddy, hold their own. They are accomplished scene stealers.
Friedman’s quiet, melodic score is ably rendered by a four-piece band led by keyboardist Andrew Fleser. It sounds bigger than its numbers, but the show calls out for fuller orchestration.
Even so, “Abominables” blows the whistle, sweetly, on an aspect of our culture that needs a timeout.