Come From Away is a show that is greater than the sum of its parts. The script is iffy. The music is not exceptional. The sound is so loud that the lyrics are often unintelligible. The talent, it should be noted is not iffy one little bit. Not only are they skilled actors with voices that rock, THEY LOOK LIKE US. These are not stereotypes. There is not a beauty queen, swarthy leading man, or crotchety elder among them. Perhaps that is because this is a true story – or perhaps it is because somebody cared. This is, after all, the story of what happened to us all on 9/11. No one who sees this show was untouched by that day. And no one will leave untouched by this show. The spirit that is on that stage sweeps past the footlights and scoops everyone in the audience up into its arms.
The story of 9/11 and Canada’s hospitality is now legend. Over 33,000 people were diverted to 17 airports in Canada. Hour an hopelessness were tended to by hospitality and hope. The people of the towns of Gander, Lewisport and Gambo on the island of Newfoundland found themselves welcoming 38 planes and a total of 7,000 people along with several dogs, cats and monkeys. Their population doubled. Picture New York City with 4 million more people. The stranded passengers and their hosts were thrown together, both parties in severe shock. It was the Canadians who took the lead.
As the story begins we hear Welcome to the Rock – a sort of anthem that lets you know these are hearty people living on their terms in the middle of – well – nowhere. Gander (the featured town here) has an airport that used to be very busy, a two-person police force, one SPCA, one school and one hockey rink. They are not prepared for the 38 planes one tiny bit. Except for the fact that they are Newfoundlanders, and these people are known for being generous and welcoming.
The town shifts into major action mode. Some passengers spend over a day on their planes. Others are offloaded and taken to makeshift shelters. And there are the animals that are kicking up a storm. The Canadians will not take no for an answer when their kindness is refused. Slowly the shock is replaced by gratitude. Bonds are formed, friendships glimmer, love stories begin. Time passes and the wear and tear shows up as arguments explode, relationships wither, and the hopelessness returns. It is a natural progression like the seven stages of grief. Still, these people weave a cloth that will not tear.
The cast is beautifully directed and choreographed. Each actor plays more than one part, and their characterizations are so defined that we never, not for an instant, are lost in the transitions. This is an ensemble that is a living breathing solar system that breaks up into planets with their own moons, then swoops back together in an evolving configuration. They are a marvel to watch.
Come From Away is the backstory to the collective tragedy of 9/11. The story takes place over 5 days beginning with 9/11. We the audience have the advantage of knowing what has happened, and we watch the events unfold with that knowledge tucked into our saddlebags. We are a sort of honor guard, wanting to tell them that it will be okay because over a decade later we are still here. Not only are we here but many of the audience have brought children who were not born when 9/11 happened. They have brought them to this show because it is the closest they can get to that day. Video will only report what happened. Live actors can make you feel what happened.
(Photo by Matthew Murphy)
"Try, if you must, to resist the gale of good will that blows out of 'Come From Away,' the big bearhug of a musical that opened on Sunday night at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater. But even the most stalwart cynics may have trouble staying dry-eyed during this portrait of heroic hospitality under extraordinary pressure."
Ben Brantley for New York Times
"A big-hearted and crowd-pleasing musical about compassion and community in the wake of 9/11."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News
"Despite minor stumbles of craft, Come from Away makes a persuasive case for the value of good intentions. For this kind of uplift you don’t need planes."
Adam Feldman for Time Out New York
"A deeply moving musical that should prove a tonic in troubled times."
Frank Scheck for Hollywood Reporter
"Here’s that feel-good show that audiences constantly pine for. “Come from Away” is a modest, earnest, life-affirming musical by Irene Sankoff and David Hein that makes people think the human race might not be doomed, after all."
Marilyn Stasio for Variety
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