“Come From Away” on Broadway: A Review
You have probably seen the viral image of a Canadian graffiti saying – “Your mom is a nice lady”. And that’s what Canada is – nice and good. That’s the main topic of “Come From Away” – human kindness. So hop on the plane to Gander, Newfoundland with BroadwayPass.
“Come From Away” is the brainchild of real-life couple Irene Sankoff and David Hein. It settled on Broadway after stints in San Diego, Seattle, Washington, D. C., and Toronto. It is by far the longest-running Canadian musical on Broadway.
The show is the authors’ way to commemorate those that fell in the tragic day of September the 11th and as well to pay tribute to all of those that gave their support to those that showed kindness and compassion in the following events.
The story is set in the small town of Gander, on the island of Newfoundland, where 38 airplanes were landed during operation “Yellow Ribbon”, thus doubling the population of the town. This is all after the 9/11 attacks in New York, Washington DC and Shanksville, Pennsylvania It is the story of the kindness of the local people, “the Islanders” to the “come from aways”. It is the story of tens of small stories. Real stories of real people. They form the arcs of the show.
It was an ordinary day in Gander when all the planes landed. This nearly doubled the population of the small town. It was a dire situation and all other activities sized – the bus drivers’ strike stops and shops handle all that the “plane people” need for free. In this time the crews and passengers are not allowed to leave the planes which result in panic (they are not aware of the terrorist attacks) and questions what happened, why are they here and are their loved ones well. The locals invite them to a local pub to initiate them as honorary islanders. This “ritual” includes kissing a codfish and taking a shot of the famous local rum.
In “Come From Away” we don’t have a main character. This role is taken by the community. We have a couple of prolific characters that are strong individuals – Claude the Mayor and Beverley Bass, the captain of one of the planes. The Mayor was one of the most active individuals in helping the refugees, while Mrs. Bass is a somewhat historic figure – she is the first female captain in American Airlines. She also led the first-ever female-only flight crew. Another strong character, again a lady, is Bonnie Harris. She is the local vet that took care of the 19 animals that were aboard of the planes, including an epileptic cat and a couple of Bonobo Chimps.
Like a stubborn plant crawling through cracked rock, love flourished in these harsh conditions. We have two couples. One of them formed there. Diane and Nick met on the plane from Europe. The Englishman and the lady from Dallas quickly bonded and became favorites to both people from Gander and those in the audience. The other couple – Kevin and Kevin were suspicious to the locals and rather afraid if they become the target of abuse, but at the end were both touched by the islanders’ compassion and tolerance. Touched by their hospitality, Kevin T, a CEO of a marketing company, gives his employees $100 each year on Sept. 11th to do at least three good deeds to strangers.
Sharing the same fears can bond people quite easily. Like Beulah Cooper and Hannah O’Rourke, both mothers to firefighters. Hannah’s son is a firefighter in Brooklyn and is involved in the operations around the destroyed Twin Towers. Beulah gave her best to comfort her while Hannah tried to reach her son.
The ending is something to remember. And worth quoting. Ten years from the events they gather in Gander to celebrate their life-long friendships. Claude holds a speech where he says that “Tonight we honor what was lost, but we also commemorate what we found.”
Acting in “Come From Away” is a very tough task. The cast is small – only 12 members, but every one of them plays several roles. You can see Chad Kimball as both Garth and Kevin Tuerff, and Caesar Samayoa as Ali, and Kevin Jung. The cast consist of mostly new faces and only Jenn Colella (Annette and Beverley Bass) and Kimball have some Broadway experience. But all of them do an amazing job in sending the audience to the cold, harsh Newfoundland and in the warm hearts of the people of Gander.
The music of the show is one of the things that sets it as unique on Broadway. It is a mixture of Celtic and folk rhythms, including uilleann pipes and accordion. All of the songs are performed by the ensemble. The only solo belongs to Mrs. Bass – “Me and the Sky”. Some of them are quite catchy like “Welcome to the Rock”. One just can’t leave the venue without chanting “I’m an Islander”.
“Come From Away” received high critical and audience acclaim. The show was nominated for 7 Tony Awards, winning one – Best Direction of a Musical for Christopher Ashley. It also won Drama Desk Awards for Outstanding Musical, Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical and Outstanding Book of a Musical, and later added Outer Critics Circle Awards for Outstanding Broadway Musical, Outstanding Book of a Musical, Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical, and Outstanding Sound Design.
The world has a lot to learn from the small town of Gander and its Islanders. Tolerance, kindness, hospitality. While racism and homophobia swipe the world, in Gander everyone was accepted by who they were, no matter skin color, religion or sexuality. There was that moment in the show where an Islander talked to an African couple via the Bible. The Kevins were well received, too, just as it is supposed to be.
So, if you want to have a hard shot of rum, kiss a codfish and call yourself an Islander, book your ticket on BroadwayPass and head to the warm hearts of the people of Gander.