By Wendy Rosenfield

for the Inquirer

If I could change anything about 11th Hour Theatre Company's world premiere of Michael Ogborn's Field Hockey Hot, I'd have opened it a month ago, in the depths of this winter's merciless ice and cold. Never mind the heat in its title - the musical's sunny, neon-hued, retro-'80s theme paired with the gung-ho cast's calorie-torching exertions alone might have raised the mercury at least a few notches.

The production, funded partly by a Kickstarter campaign, represents a real coup for the young company. It is the group's first commission and world premiere, and first time working with playwright and composer Ogborn. If Ogborn's name sounds familiar, that's because he's a Philly mainstay, with several Arden premieres (Baby CaseCafé PuttanescaTulipomania), People's Light pantos, and one bona fide Off-Broadway smash (Box Office of the Damned) studding his resumé.

It's a real match of sensibilities, too, as director Megan Nicole O'Brien charges forward with with Ogborn's bananas script, allowing no line to remain undersold or understated and unleashing its cast of 10 to fill the Adrienne's small house to the rafters with manic glee. The campy plot follows the travails of Applebee Academy's Appaloosas. This is the year - 1986, to be specific - the girls' field hockey team is going all the way, against the Lady Fur Trappers from Regina (pronounced, of course, like angina), Saskatchewan.

The rest of the show's humor follows with campy, corny good fun, with nods to Sister Act, Tina Turner, Michael Jackson, The Sound of Music (blessed Sister George Michael croons "Field Ev'ry Goal" to a young charge), Flashdance, and whatever other detritus MTV and Hollywood tossed into the Reagan years. Choreographer Ellie Mooney makes it authentic, aping the herky-jerky aerobics scenes familiar to anyone who has flipped a channel past Pat Benatar's "Love Is a Battlefield" taxi dancers.

 

Not all the Appaloosas are mares, either. Three actors in drag portray some of the players, but if that sounds like a disappointingly predictable and sexist depiction of female athletes, consider that O'Brien directs Sean White's Kennedy Cox, a Madonna ringer with incipient crushes on her teammates, so sweetly and sympathetically (particularly during her "Crazy for You"-style ballad "One Locker Away from Mine"), that it somehow works.

It's impossible to include all the show's charms here, but among its excellent plaid-kilted cast are some chief charmers. Jennie Eisenhower as Coach Shipley Barnes (she's driven by an incident back in '69 involving another big game and some wayward LSD), Alex Keiper's Maureen Gonzales (an orphan brought in to replace a player injured in a horrible horseplay-on-a-slippery-surface accident), and Michael Philip O'Brien as Coach's son Champ (who might finally be able to live out his longstanding high school field-hockey rock-and-roll fantasy) bring winning enthusiasm to their roles. There's no shame in Ogborn's or 11th Hour's game, and they're all winners in my book, whether or not they take home that championship trophy (or the Barrymore Award).

Presented by 11th Hour Theatre Company at the Adrienne, 2030 Sansom St., through March 22.

Tickets: $32-$37. Information: 267-987-9865 or 11thHourTheatreCompany.org.