The first 10 minutes of The Abominables are not auspicious. There's a song about how Minnesotans are obsessed with hockey, and then a song about how we're all passive-aggressive, and it starts to look like the Children's Theatre Company's new musical is going to be a blithe glide over hoary regional stereotypes.
Children's Theatre Company
Then, The Abominables takes a turn. Then there's another turn, and another, and by the time the curtain (in the form of a giant Canadian flag) falls for intermission, "Minnesota's first hockey musical" has become winningly weird.
The plot centers on Mitch (Henry Constable), a tween boy who looks like a lock for the A-team in his youth hockey league -- until a new family moves to town, with a son (an endearing Ryan Colbert) who just happens to be a literal Yeti.
That's right, Harry's an Abominable Snowman who's also a hockey whiz, and who unwittingly relegates Mitch to the B-team by nabbing what would have been his spot.
This could all be played really dumb, but writer/director Steve Cosson and composer/lyricist Michael Friedman have a lot of respect for their young audience's intelligence. Kids and adults in The Abominables all talk like actual human beings, even the ones who aren't actually human. That makes the new musical endearing and relatable, except that we can't all be as witty as Mitch's dry younger sisters Lily (Valerie Wick) and Tracy (Natalie Tran).
Under a wood-vaulted ceiling on the UnitedHealth Group Stage, the action moves smoothly from rink to home to the snowy outdoors on Andrew Boyce's remarkably fluid and functional set. Although the stage never feels cluttered (with all the zipping around on rollerblades that serve as ice skates, it couldn’t be), it's full of slyly winking touches like a hotel room numbered 237 and hung with a "do not disturb" sign. That's a nod to The Shining, the recent opera that starred Abominables cast member Alejandro Vega as Danny.
Here, that poised young actor gets to go for laughs instead of scares, as his character Freddy gamely demonstrates the winter survival strategies he learned from his mountaineer parents (Elise Benson and Bradley Greenwald). Vega's well-matched with Wick, who befriends Freddy and gets to show off some surprisingly supernatural skills of her own.
A little long at two hours including intermission, The Abominables could be pared down by trimming some of the psychological games that muddy the plot, but it's hard to fault Cosson and Friedman for wanting to get as much mileage as possible out of their amusing premise and the absurd turns it takes.
Tragically, Friedman died of AIDS on September 9, just days before The Abominables opened. His death makes the show's climactic musical number particularly moving: It's a song about the importance of learning to lose, asserting that behind every loss there's also a win.
It seems counterintuitive to think that you could somehow find joy even in the midst of sadness, but the legacy Friedman's left right in front of our eyes poignantly proves his point.