The first song Lauren Walker wrote for “SLaM: The Hockey Rock Opera” came to her fully formed five years ago while she was making pancakes at a campground in Sweden. She had been living in a truck with her boyfriend, a Dutch-Canadian journalist and hockey player, looking for a place to settle down.
“I just broke into song,” Walker says, and then sings, “Every day we pack and unpack everything that we own. Lord, give us a home!”
Her boyfriend was stunned. “What is that?” she recalls him asking. “You’ve got to record that!” He ran out to the truck and dug up a digital recorder. Walker doesn’t read or write music, so she just began singing into the little recorder. By the time she left Europe a few months later, she had an entire rock opera. It premieres at Montpelier’s City Hall Arts Center this weekend.
The show, directed by Walker and performed by Central Vermont Community Players, is based on her romance with her partner, PJ de Groot. They met in Canada, where Walker had relocated from Montana, she says, to protest the war in Iraq. The two live apart now; various immigration issues have kept de Groot from joining Walker in Northfield.
On stage, their real-life love story goes something like this: Silky la Mouche, a small-time hockey player with big aspirations, is inspired by his girlfriend, Steamy, who has just discovered her own love of ice hockey, to try once more to make the big leagues. Steamy, an American artist struggling to make it in New York City, takes him up on his offer to join him in Europe. There, Silky isn’t just looking to make it on a professional hockey team but is also searching for the Dutch father he’s never met.
“It’s a personal growth story,” Walker says. “They start together in Europe, and then they break up and go their own ways … They love each other, they fight. It’s got some tear-jerker moments.”
Oh, and all of this unfolds in song, dance and, yes, real skating on a faux ice floor.
From the moment Walker first picked up a hockey stick at age 35, five years ago in Europe with de Groot, she was obsessed. “I have never had so much fun doing anything in my life,” she says. “I came out of the rink, and I was driving home and just screaming to myself, That was so great!”
Walker has managed to stage an actual hockey game on her plastic polymer floor at Montpelier City Hall, and has choreographed dance numbers on skates with hockey sticks. One is called “Messier,” a song about New York Ranger Mark Messier, which the cast performs in full hockey gear.
When Walker moved back to the U.S. following the election of President Obama in 2008, she dug out the old digital recorder and got to work on her rock opera. She played the songs for Montpelier composer Nancy Taube, who agreed to orchestrate them for nine voices and five instruments.
From there, Walker, who had never written or directed a show before, bought a guide to directing and started calling theater and hockey people in the area. By last July she had found her cast, which includes Taryn Noelle as Steamy and Micheal Henderson as Silky.
“It feels insane that this is real,” Walker says giddily. “Early on in the rehearsal process, hearing nine voices singing my songs … I got chills. Two of my brain cells rubbed together, and now this is really happening.”