Clare Lockhart ’17 /Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Come From Away seems like an impossible musical based on an impossible story. After the September 11th terrorist attacks in New York and DC, 38 planes were diverted to a small town in Newfoundland called Gander. This musical tells of the days the passengers, their animals, and crews were stranded before American airspace was open once more. The show is completely ensemble based, with no central character and with each actors playing multiple characters. The band is also based onstage behind trees, and is even present as characters in one scene.
Surprisingly, although it is based on the vents after September 11th, Come From Away is not about terrorism. It is about hope, home, and human kindness. These people from a small town dropped all differences and opened their arms to frightened, angry, and scared people without asking for anything in return. In the week that the planes were stranded in Gander, the town doubled in size. A recurring theme in the show is the passengers asking how they can help, if they can pay for their stay there – with the natives answering “Of course not, you would have done the same thing.” This line created a ripple in the audience, because in this day and age – we might not have done the same thing. We can’t even accept people in our own community, let alone refugees of any variety. Not only is this line a message of hope and kindness but it also serves as a reminder to us all of how capable we are of being good to one another, even in times such as these.
There is no main character in this show but the town itself, Gander. Not since Once: The Musical has there been such a tight knit ensemble weaving their way across the stage, their sole purpose – telling their story fully and truthfully. The stand outs are Jenn Colella’s Beverly in an unexpected feminist and heart-wrenching number “Me and the Sky”, Caesar Samayoa’s portrayal of an Egyptian man just looking to get home to his family, and Rodney Hicks hilarious turn as a man unaccustomed to Canadian hospitality.
The music by David Hein and Irene Sankoff is what gives the show it’s heart, from rocking bar songs to classic romantic ballads – it is Canadian rock at it’s very best. Each character gets a moment to themselves to speak to the audience about their experiences after September 11th – whether it is stories of fear, love, or loss. Beowulf Boritt’s set is bare in the best way possible, with one turntable and trees surrounding the outer corners of the stage. His design gives Kelly Devine’s musical staging the chance to shine. Her staging perfectly encapsulates the characters states of mind, and locations from small airplanes, to schools buses, to the local Tim Horton’s.
It is hard to look at Come From Away with an objective eye if you were alive on September 11th, 2001. This terrorist attack on New York and DC changed lives, and America, for good and for bad. When writing a musical about or surrounding those events, you have to be careful to not exploit or over-dramatize. It’s also hard as an audience member to not project your emotions and feelings onto the show. Come From Away walks the tightrope almost perfectly, though slipping into cheesy territory once and awhile. While other shows may be contenders for Best Musical – Come From Away gets my vote.