Come from Away

| March 22, 2017

Come from Away

Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, NYC, March 16, 2017

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors for Cabaret Scenes

Photos: Matthew Murphy

Chad Kimball (C) and the cast

At Broadway’s Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, Come from Away may be the most inspirational, feel-good, 100 minutes of bang-for-the-buck ticket you can buy this season.

On September 11, 2001, a small town in Canada was forced in its own way to face the consequences of the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington DC. How this town, Gander, Newfoundland, stood up to that challenge has inspired a warm musical with book, music and lyrics by a Canadian husband-and-wife team, Irene Sankoff and David Hein.

When the FAA closed American airspace, 38 airplanes already in flight were redirected to Gander International Airport at the northeast corner of North America. Gander has one of the world’s largest airstrips, yet it is really a small rural town of about 10,000. Suddenly, it has to prepare to receive 6,579 stranded passengers and it does. A true story, Come from Away rings with optimism, proving that in times of need, people can show extraordinary kindness and support even though they are not directly affected by the tragedy. 

The stars of the musical are the Gander residents and the passengers and crew who land there, not knowing why or for how long. What becomes evident is that the “come-from aways” need food, shelter, phones, and support, and the townspeople “put the kettle on.” Hockey rinks become giant refrigerators for donated food; schools, fire stations, and churches are put to use as housing; stores donate blankets and coffee makers; residents bring clothes and open their homes for travelers to shower, have hot meals and make phone calls.

Jenn Colella (C) and the cast

Director Christopher Ashley (Memphis) is a master at keeping various personal stories moving at an energetic clip. Twelve high-powered actors portray multiple diverse characters dealing with the confusion that unravels over the next five days. Jenn Colella is galvanizing as Beverly Bass, the American Airlines pilot who belts out her story, “Me and the Sky.” Sweet moments reveal a British oil engineer, Nick (Lee MacDougall), as he falls for a fellow traveler, Dallas divorcee Diane (Sharon Wheatey). Bob (Rodney Hicks) is a suspicious New Yorker who keeps a tight grip on his wallet, however, his suspicions melt away over the days, while Chad Kimball and Caesar Samayoa, a gay couple, eventually find they do not really belong together.

Kendra Kassebaum and the cast

Notable among the travelers is a mother, Hannah (Q Smith), who can’t leave the phone as she waits to hear from her son, a New York firefighter. “I Am Here” is a poignant musical moment as she hopes her son will survive. A compassionate local teacher, Beulah (Astrid Van Wieren), supports and prays with her. The head of the Gander SPCA, Bonnie (Petrina Bromley), finds that animals are trapped on a plane and works tirelessly to care for them. Local residents Oz, Annette, Mayor Gander, and others work to accommodate food needs for an Orthodox Jew and a Muslim man. 

Lives were changed in Gander during and after this experience yet, while the actors are energetic and enthusiastic, there is no time for character depth. In addition, Sankoff and Hein’s score fails to stand out with distinction, although the energy never sags with a zesty eight-piece on-stage band conducted by Ian Eisendrath. Orchestrated by August Eriksmoen, the Celtic tunes, and Kelly Devine’s sturdy foot-stomping choreography and musical staging serve the immediate scenes. The opener, for example, “Welcome to the Rock,” sets the scene of a small town waking up to an ordinary day that will become anything but ordinary. Scenic designer Beowulf Borritt provides an effective rotating set, with lighting by Howell Binkley, and Toni-Leslie James provides realistic clothes for townspeople and tired travelers.

At its heart, Come From Away is an extraordinary production, reminding us of that small Canadian community’s kindness and sensitivity. The audience springs to its feet at the finale, hailing the optimism that is brightening the Great White Way at a time when it is really needed.

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Category: Broadway Reviews, Musical Theatre Reviews, New York City, Regional

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