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'The Ballad of Stompin' Tom' by David Scott

Now onstage at Port Hope's Capitol Theatre

Credit: Sam Moffatt. Pictured: Scott Carmichael as Stompin' Tom Connors

Joe Szekeres

“A hell of a good time. ‘The Ballad of Stompin’ Tom’ makes me proud to shout out loud that I’m Canadian.”

"The Ballad of Stompin' Tom" showcases the life of one of Canada's most legendary musicians. Tom Connors (Scott Carmichael), who grew up in an orphanage, spent his days travelling across Northern Ontario, entertaining crowds in bars and other venues. Connors’ parents weren’t dead, but he was an orphaned child and was taken away by Children’s Aid, lived in an orphanage and then a foster home. The play opens with the young Tom (Jack Barr), his baby sister and his mother Isabel (Donna Garner) on the move again as they appear to be on their down and out luck.

Connors loved the small-town communities. In the early 1960s, he found himself short of a nickel to pay for a beer at The Maple Leaf Hotel in Timmins, Ontario. His big break comes when the bartender Gaetan (Andy Trithardt) promises Tom a beer to sing a few songs. This ultimately turned into a 13-month contract at the Hotel to sing for the bar crowds. Despite facing criticism from many naysayers about his music style, Tom remained committed and refused to let negativity affect his passion for it.

The Capitol’s stellar opening night performance indeed lives up to what Director Rob Kempson promises in his Programme Note: “I hope you’ll feel like you’re at a classic kitchen party.”

I certainly did.

The stage design by Brandon Kleiman, featuring a spacious two-level structure, suits the Capitol stage perfectly. The design is not excessively showy but instead evokes a Grand Ole Opry style, which is appropriate thanks to Cosette Pin’s lighting design. The presence of a big guitar on stage is a delightful sight as it powerfully underscores Tom’s musical instrument of choice. It adds to the visual appeal of the performance when the strings light up during certain musical numbers. Joyce Padua has appropriately dressed the acting company in styles reminiscent of the years when we see the young Tom growing up.

What a treat to see a wonderful recreation of Connors’ hat, vest and stompin’ boots.

As Sound Designer, Emily Porter bears the important responsibility of ensuring that the lyrics of iconic songs like ‘Bud the Spud’, ‘Sudbury Saturday Night’ and ‘The Hockey Song’ are heard exactly as they were written. Maintaining an appropriate balance is crucial in this regard and, for the most part, that balance is achieved in the lyrics and spoken dialogue. If you are unfamiliar with these three songs and planning to attend, it would be wise to listen to them beforehand.

Director Rob Kempson and Music Director David Archibald collaboratively want their audiences to have a good time and, as the former states in his Programme Note: “to be inspired by the legacy and history that it portrays while not feeling bound by it.” My guest and I were most certainly inspired by Connors for his uniqueness as a performing artist, and to the Capitol’s fine production of a Canadian moment.

The musical numbers are delivered in raucous and booming fashion with Scott Carmichael proudly stomping his foot to keep time with the music.

David Scott’s Book does not provide any explanation as to why Connors opts to use plywood boards during his shows. However, those familiar with Tom's performances know that his vigorous stomping during songs would often leave holes in the stage floor. To prevent this, plywood sheets were utilized, which would later be auctioned for charity as per Tom's request. But there appears to be no reference to this in the script at all.

Carmichael delivers a bold and terrific performance as Tom Connors. Scott skillfully embodies Tom's signature whiskey and smoky gravelly voice, staying true to the character's well-known sound. His rendition of the top three famous songs listed above is met with resounding applause.

Jack Barr is a precocious young Tom who dutifully listens to his mother. Haneul Yi as Teen Tom captures believably the young man’s growing independence in discovering how important it is not to quit (even though his destitute years as a child have strongly influenced him in the meantime).

Donna Garner delivers a poignant performance as Isabel, Tom's mother. She strives to make the best choices for her son despite being flawed. Despite her imperfections, Isabel instills in Tom a lifelong love for music. Meanwhile, Andy Trithardt's character Gaetan playfully engages in witty banter with Tom upon his arrival at The Maple Leaf Hotel.

The multi-instrumentalist ensemble members remain in tip-top-notch shape throughout to deliver Connors’ signature songs with panache and flair.

A most enjoyable afternoon or evening at the theatre.

Final Comments: Once again I must acknowledge the Capitol’s Artistic Director Rob Kempson. He gets what the theatre is all about. He understands what it takes to bring the community to the theatre.

Kempson's decision to tell the tale of a fellow Canadian is a wise one considering the upcoming celebration of Canada’s birthday. Tom Connors’ story is one of our many stories of diligent individuals who worked hard and achieved their dreams. Through his music, Connors shares what it truly means to be Canadian from coast to coast to coast.

Tom also believed in holding others accountable for their actions. His choice to take a ten-year break from performing is commendable, as he remained steadfast in his wise decision.

That is Tom Connors. The Stompin’ Tom Connors.

And that’s why you should go see ‘The Ballad of Stompin’ Tom’ now onstage at Port Hope’s Capitol Theatre.

Running time: approximately two hours and fifteen minutes with one interval/intermission.

‘The Ballad of Stompin’ Tom’ runs until July 2 at the Capitol Theatre, 20 Queen Street, Port Hope. For tickets, call the Box Office (905) 885-1071 or visit

‘The Ballad of Stompin’ Tom’ by David Scott
Songs and Lyrics by Stompin’ Tom Connors

Director: Rob Kempson
Music Director: David Archibald
Set Designer: Brandon Kleiman
Costume Designer: Joyce Padua
Lighting Designer: Cosette Pin
Sound Designer: Emily Porter
Stage Manager: Tamara Protic

Performers: Scott Carmichael, Haneul Yi, Jack Barr, Alex St. Kitts, Andy Trithardt, Donna Garner, Melissa Payne.

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