Theatre Review: Come From Away

Come From Away

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“Everything starts and ends at Tim Hortons” states the mayor of Gander, a small town in Newfoundland as he arrives at the coffee shop to check in with the townsfolk. It is the morning of September 11th, 2001, and Gander is about to experience the most unexpected 5 days, opening their airport and their hearts to almost 7,000 strangers from all over the world.

Come From Away was imagined and created by Irene Sankoff and David Hein, who ventured to Gander, Newfoundland in 2011 to interview and hear stories from locals and returning passengers who had come to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the attacks.

This Canadian musical is based on these true stories and tells a different perspective of the events that took place on 9/11, because while much of the world was glued to the images of the twin towers on their televisions, places like Gander were all-hands-on-deck, preparing to receive thousands of displaced travelers. 4,000 flights in the air were ordered to land at their nearest airport, 38 of which were coming to Gander. The townspeople were unsure how to prepare to double their town’s population in a matter of hours.

Come From Away

Gathering all their resources and energy, the people of Gander supplied shelter, supplies, transportation and friendly faces for the stranded passengers and their flight crews. The ASPCA helped take care of all the animals in the cargo holds, including two chimpanzees on their way to the Columbus Zoo. The Salvation Army mobilized to make food. They even cancelled hockey so the ice rink could serve as a walk-in refrigerator. In one of the largest acts of goodwill and humanity, the passengers were welcomed, busload after busload, to schools and community centers all over the island.

Many lives were changed forever during this week, as relationships changed or blossomed. On September 15th, 2001 they all left as quickly as they came—back to their normal lives—whatever that meant now. Through collective trauma and circumstance, the people made light of the situation to the best of their abilities and created lasting friendships that resulted in reunions continuing today.

Come From Away

I wore eye makeup to the theater and left without it. I don’t think I’ve cried this much during any show I’ve ever seen. I should add, it was almost all happy tears, because it is truly an amazing story to witness. I am not sure what was the most compelling part of the show, as the story was amazing…but the acting, singing, live music, sets, and lighting were all phenomenal. I have never seen anything like this format, with a lot of characters being played by the same 12 actors changing accents and articles of clothing to become someone entirely different.

It was easy to forget they were just someone else, as every actor was fantastic at bringing emotion and comedy to each individual character. Stand out actors for me were Julie Johnson (Beulah and others), Jenny Ashman (Beverley/Annette and others), and Kevin Carolan (Claude and others). Ashman’s performance of “Me and the Sky” was amazing.

The ensemble performance of “Prayer” was so moving, especially today in a time of so much divisiveness, because it demonstrated how the shared need to pray transcended the culture and religions of the people. “Screech In” was also a delight! With no intermission, “Screech In” is a fun pace change that also showcases both the talents of the on-stage musicians and comedic prowess of the actors.

Come From Away

If I were there, I would probably also kiss the fish! (You’ll see what I mean when you go see the show because you HAVE TO go see this show). “Somewhere in the Middle of Nowhere” as my favorite song in the show because the vocals were absolutely beautiful.

The set was insanely simple; trees along the wings with stage lights affixed, and 12 wooden chairs with some tables. The back wall, though immobile, had two hidden doors used for many purposes. Neon bar signs were occasionally lit to bring us into the local pub or Tim Hortons.

The use of the chairs to create everything from air traffic control rooms, buses/planes, community centers, and even scenic overlooks was amazing. One scene simply used lights held by the actors and one shift of their chair’s position to go from being air traffic controllers to pilots responding to their commands. Upon the passengers’ arrival in Gander, the stage began rotating to add even more depth to quick character changes and to represent movement. The simple sets and quick movement maintained the perfect pacing of the show.

I am a sucker for Uilleann Pipes, Mandolins, and a Bodhran, and having all the musicians playing on stage behind the trees was a lovely aspect of the show because it allowed them to come into the scenes to play as appropriate to the story. Kiana June Weber is a fantastic fiddle player and was a joy to see performing in the show. Conductor Cameron Moncur was instrumental in maintaining the perfect pacing of this show along with playing three of the instruments himself.

I didn’t know what to expect seeing Come From Away and boy was I blown away. This might just be the best show I’ve ever seen. As an American seeing this show, it was heartwarming and contemplative.

Come From Away

I felt new gratitude for the people of Newfoundland who went above and beyond during an American crisis to ensure all people we taken care of. I felt for the people who knew people in New York and in the skies that day. As a high schooler in Southern California, I did not have a connection to the attacks on 9/11 that made it truly feel real.

This story is an important one to tell because it’s a positive piece of this horrible situation—proof that humanity transcends the pain and darkness of dark times and finds ways to support each other. I hope to take more people to see Come From Away before it’s gone. If you want your faith in humanity renewed, I hope you take the time to come from away and experience this masterpiece and the amazing cast who bring it together.

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