JC’S THEATRE SPOTLIGHT – Chasing Champions

TITLE:  Chasing Champions

VENUE:  Neptune Theatre, Scotiabank Stage

THEATRE COMPANY:  Eastern Front Theatre, Ship’s Company Theatre (Parrsboro)

DATES:  April 19 – 30, 2017

SYNOPSIS:  Sam Langford was voted Nova Scotia’s “Athlete of the 20th Century”.  ESPN (the American sports network) called him “the greatest fighter nobody knows”.  Sadly, ESPN was right.  Chasing Champions follows Langford on his travels around the world in the early 1900’s and tells Sam’s incredible story - of struggle, of triumph … but sadly, of great injustice. 

HIGHLIGHT:  Telling a story so deep in detail and historic timeline is a massive challenge.  Chasing Champions does so without the energy ever bogging down.  Snappy visual and lighting effects are sharp, precise, and keep the story moving.  The archival footage is remarkable.  But it’s the personality of Sam Langford that drives the narrative, from underage Boston barkeep to his old age - blind, penniless, and living in Harlem – and the sensational Nova Scotian boxer tells the most compelling boxing story since Rocky.  Hell, I for one think it’s even greater.

QUOTE:  “New Orleans, Louisiana.  Two dead.  Houston, Texas.  Two dead.  Chicago, Illinois.  Eleven dead.  Wilmington, Delaware.  Ten dead.  Little Rock, Arkansas.  Two dead.  Augusta, Gerogia.  Three dead.  La Providence, Louisiana.  Two dead.  Uvaldia, Georgia.  Two dead.  Mounds, Illiniois.  Three dead.  Charleston, Missouri.  Three dead in lynchings.  This was the toll of a black heavyweight champ.”

SHINING STARS:  This is Jacob Sampson’s show.  He’s the playwright and the star.  Sampson personifies Sam Langford.  And he was born not far from Weymouth Falls, Langford’s Digby County hometown.  Huge kudos as well to Micha Cromwell, who covers more ground than any actor should be expected to.  From Sam’s mother, to his seamstress, to his wife, convincingly switching to scenes where she would appear as Sam’s opponent, trainer, and referee!  All seamless, never a distraction. 

WHY YOU SHOULD SEE THIS:  The history of black Nova Scotians is proud and full of great characters and heroes.  And the story of Sam Langford’s life is as entertaining as it is enraging.  It deserves to be told in this public forum.  And it deserves a huge audience.  Honestly, you’ll laugh … and you’ll cry.  And you WILL feel a part of it.  Few live shows will grip you in the “feels” like Chasing Champions.  It’s a play that everyone should see and enjoy.  But for Nova Scotians, we NEED to know this story. 

As an aside, Chasing Champions just captured six of the nine “Merritt Awards” for Nova Scotia theatre for which it was nominated, from its world premiere production last summer at Ship’s Company Theatre in Parrsboro. 

Photo by Jennifer Harrison (taken for the World Premiere at Ship's Company Theatre)