Our neighbors to the north have always been known for being a kind and compassionate country. It's no secret that during the last US elections, many Americans were eyeing it as a potential home. Well that happened for several days for people from all around the world on Sept 11, 2001. When America was under attack, 38 planes carrying almost 7,000 passengers were diverted to Gander, Newfoundland by the FAA. The small town's population was doubled and this community opened their hearts, homes, and wallets to all of these strangers. It was 'home' for these people for several days until they were able to get back in the sky and on to their final destinations.
Canadian writers Irene Sankoff and David Hein were drawn to this story and used it as the basis for their new musical Come From Away. Once again, Canada has opened their hearts and are giving Broadway a wonderful gift with this show. The original show had an out of town run before hitting NYC in La Jolla Playhouse, Seattle Rep, Ford's Theatre, and Toronto and has already settled in beautifully into their home at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre where it opens March 12th. With the power of the musical Once and the story-telling style of The Laramie Project, this show has a uniqueness that should stand out in a busy spring season of new musicals.
I'm breaking my own rule as I usually don't write about shows during previews, but it's obvious this show is a well-oiled machine and I want as many people as possible to know about it and go see it! It's about love, compassion, unity - all things we need to hear. The show starts with a bang and in 100 minutes with no intermission tells the story of the people of Gander as well as "the plane people" that have come from everywhere to their small town. Director Christopher Ashley keeps this ensemble constantly moving - sometimes without giving pause for applause - which the audience desperately wants to give. This ensemble of amazing performers are giving their all on that stage and we feel every bit of it. They switch characters in the blink of an eye and we never lose sight of who they are at any given moment. I say ensemble as it truly is an incredible group of people working together: no star turns in this show (though I must say that I love seeing Jenn Colella and Chad Kimball back on stage.) But I truly fell in love with every single performer on that stage including the band who plays on stage, adding to the overall energy and passion.
Sankoff and Hein have written a beautiful piece that many people may not know. In the middle of a horrible time in our country's history, these people found community and it's stunning to witness. It's also wonderful to know so many in this show are based on real people, real stories - and you can sense it. It's not maudlin, it's uplifting. It's funny. It's powerful. (There is a moment where many religions converge during The Prayer and it's stunning.) The music is different from what we're used to from Musical Theater (being a former BMI Musical Theater Workshop student - I always notice this), but it fits perfectly with the rhythm of this show. Sometimes it's best to break the rules! Bravo to these two nuanced writers! Beowulf Boritt has designed a simple set on a turntable with mismatched chairs. Howell Binkley provides wonderful lighting and both of these elements let us know where we are every step of the way.
We all have our own stories from 9/11. I had not made it to work that day and was watching from across the river in Hoboken, NJ at the train station. However it was poignant for me that I saw Come From Away just two days after the 24th anniversary of the '93 World Trade Center bombing where I had just started a part-time job on the 98th floor of Tower One and recall taking an hour to walk down all those stairs. (Yes, this arts guy chose a corporate America "stay-alive job" while living out my arts dreams in the early 90s.) One of the beauties of Come From Away is that it allows us to recall our own memories from that week while seeing a completely new story that displays in such a dark moment, there was a diverse group of people that found each other and celebrated those differences. Wow.