The Ballad of Stompin’ Tom

A Truly Canadian Soul

Reviewed by Mary Alderson

If you like a true story of someone overcoming a difficult childhood and somehow moving on to reach a goal, then you’ll enjoy the The Ballad of Stompin’ Tom. Like all Tom Connors’ songs, this musical tells a tale.

The story of how little Tommy eventually becomes Stompin’ Tom Connors is one of resilience and perseverance, going against the odds. Connors’ father isn’t involved in his life and his mother steals food and doesn’t always pay the rent. She is eventually caught and does time in prison, while Tommy lives in an orphanage and then goes to a foster family. He runs away at age 14 and makes it on his own playing guitar, writing songs and doing odd jobs. His musical career takes off when he gets a regular gig at the Maple Leaf Hotel in Timmins.

The very multi-talented cast members are actually quadruple threats. A triple threat is someone who sings, dances and acts, but add to that someone who also plays a musical instrument. Taking things a step further, many cast members play multiple instruments.

Scott Carmichael stars as Stompin’ Tom and is excellent at capturing the right vocal sound and guitar strumming, the familiar mannerisms, and even the stomp. He is to be congratulated for remembering all the lyrics to an amazing number of songs. In addition to a selection of Tom’s favourites, he easily handles the tongue twister “I’ve been Everywhere”. Originally written by Australian country singer Geoff Mack in 1959, it was popularised by Hank Snow in 1962. Then Stompin’ Tom added a few more Canadian locations.

The evening begins with Carmichael’s renditions of “Bud the Spud” and “Tillsonburg”, sounding just like Conners. Another audience favourite is “To it and At It”, the attitude song. One number I enjoyed was a ballad, “My Home Cradled Out in the Waves”. The “Ketchup Song”, which could also be called the Leamington Tomato, and many others are handled easily by Carmichael. And of course, the ever-popular “The Hockey Song” rounds out the set list.

Special mention goes to Jack Barr who plays young Tommy. Watch for young Barr in another role later in the show. His comedic timing is perfect. Haneul Yi follows as teenaged Tom, pulling our heartstrings as the youngster who sets out on his own.

Donna Garner, as well as playing various instruments, handles the role of Isobel, Tom’s mother. Garner gives us a mother who loves her son, but just can’t be counted on to raise him. Melissa Payne is a wonderful fiddler, and also plays the part of the abusive foster mother, Cora. Alex St. Kitts, Andy Trithardt and musical director David Archibald are all excellent musicians on stage, and step forward to play a variety of parts. Credit goes to director Rob Kempson for finding these talented actor/musicians who make this show work.

The set is well done. A giant guitar dominates the stage, with neon lights for the strings and an outline of bright bulbs.

It’s a heart-warming evening of Stompin’ Tom’s best folk/country music. Even if you haven’t been a big fan of Stompin’ Tom, you will find his life story interesting and listening to the lyrics of his songs may give you a greater appreciation of his work.

With a full house at the Capitol on opening night, the applause was loud and long for Connors’ music, and for this very talented cast. Plus, it is fun to see Stompin’ Tom drop that square of plywood on the floor with a big bang and start his signature stomp.  

With the recent death of another Canadian icon, Gordon Lightfoot, we have lost two truly great musical storytellers. Both Stompin’ Tom and Gord chose to keep their home in Canada and tell Canadian tales in their songs. Just as Lightfoot immortalized the Edmund Fitzgerald, Connors celebrated P.E.I. potatoes, Saturday night in Sudbury, and the tobacco fields of Tillsonburg. Seeing this musical will make you proud to be Canadian.

The Ballad of Stompin’ Tom continues at the Capitol Theatre in Port Hope until July 2, 2023. Tickets are available at the box office by calling 905-885-1071 or visiting https://capitoltheatre.com/

Photo: Scott Carmichael as Stompin’ Tom Connors (centre). Photo by Sam Moffatt.

The Ballad of Stompin’ Tom
By David Scott
Songs & Lyrics by Stompin’ Tom Connors
Directed by Rob Kempson
Musical Direction by David Archibald
Performed by Scott Carmichael, Haneul Yi, Jack Barr, Alex St. Kitts, Andy Trithardt, Donna Garner, Melissa Payne.
Capitol Theatre, Port Hope
June 10 to July 2, 2023
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

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