Something big happened in Gander, Newfoundland the morning of September 11, 2001. When thirty eight international planes were forced to land, the town of Gander hosted the stranded passengers. All seven thousand of them. Broadway Across Canada’s Come From Away, with the book, music and lyrics by Irene Sankoff and David Hein, captures the story of the passengers and the residents of the island who work around the clock to take care of them.
The production is this incredible combination of light and dark, comical and morose, musical and drama. The story unfolds in the musical numbers, complete with a band onstage and through storytelling in between. The morning starts out like normal, with the residents of Gander gathering at the Tim Hortons. Claude the Mayor is among them and he tells of that quiet morning. Everybody knows each other in Gander and nothing dramatic ever really happens in the small town. Then they turn on the news and it’s not a normal morning anymore. The first musical number ‘Welcome To the Rock’ really sets the pace and style of the overall production.
As the town prepares for the incoming passengers, we get to meet some of the townsfolk, including Claude the Mayor, Oz the police constable and Bonnie from the SPCA. The musical numbers ’28 Hours/Wherever We Are’ really illustrates the feelings of imprisonment of the passengers and the exhaustion of their journey. No one has told them about the world events, so their confusion and frustration is palpable.
Relationships form and fall apart among the ‘plane people’ and the residents, and the ripple effect of the terrorist attacks are felt in every corner.
Come From Away tells a big story with a cast that plays multiple characters by switching a hat or a suit jacket. All of the members of the cast are so talented, with powerful voices and impeccable comedic timing. Opening night even saw members of the cast adjust for audience laughter. In particular, Julie Johnson as Beulah and others shines in her performance and James Earl Jones II is so funny as Bob and others.
Set design by Beowulf Boritt features a table and twelve chairs and changes them into a plane, a bar and a gymnasium. It’s a minimalistic design, but our imaginations fill in the gaps.
It’s the contrast that exists in Come From Away that makes it a winner, the humour in light of a day of devastation and tragedy. In a post 911 world, this production shows the immense kindness of human beings. The performance shows the very deep contrast between Canadians and Americans.
It’s all delivered in an East Coast musical style, that is a bit of folk, a bit of fiddler and a bunch of rock. Broadway Across Canada’s Come From Away is the perfect mix in a theatrical performance.
Broadway Across Canada’s next show is Jesus Christ Superstar running in November. More information is available online.