Exclusive: The Canadian Company Of COME FROM AWAY Welcomes Islanders to the Rock in Return Concert Engagement
For the Toronto company of Come From Away, their return to Newfoundland this week is a homecoming of sorts - bringing back to the island the musical that tells the stories of those who were stranded there, and the Canadians who took them in, following the September 11th terrorist attacks in 2001.
For the first time since the original Toronto/Broadway company performed the musical in concert for The Town of Gander - the musical has returned to 'the rock,' this time for a week of performances in St. John's, Newfoundland at the Holy Heart Theatre.
BroadwayWorld exclusively spoke to some of the cast and creative about the show about their return to Newfoundland.
"Ever since we first took the show to Gander for two benefit concerts, we've wanted to return, and with the cast on a two week break while we change theaters in Toronto, it seems like the perfect opportunity!" said co-creator David Hein. "Our goal ever since we first started researching and writing it, was to give back to our friends in Newfoundland, who gave us and the world so much, and we are thrilled to have the proceeds from these concerts go to local charities."
"What a thrill it is to bring the show back to Newfoundland, and honor the folks who did so much for the thousands of Come From Aways diverted across Canada on 9/11..." remarked producer Sue Frost following the first performance in St. John's. "The company is having a ball here in this beautiful city and is also looking forward to a quick visit to Central Newfoundland before heading back to Toronto for our re-opening at the Elgin."
"For me personally, this has been invaluable. I've never been to Newfoundland before in my life..." says actor Jeff Madden who plays Kevin T. and others. "So actually physically being on the land is remarkable - seeing the rocks, the harbour, the hilly streets carved out of the rock, breathing the salty air, hearing the locals speak, and picking up all the nuances of the Newfoundland character."
Despite the show's international acclaim with productions currently on Broadway, a North American tour, Toronto, the West End, and soon in Australia - for most Islanders, this will be the first time seeing the production.
"To me at least, they appear to be slightly apprehensive at the beginning because they may be fearful that the show and our portrayals of them won't be authentic and truthful. So they seem a bit quieter off the top, but as the show moves along and they realize they are in good hands, the laughs get bigger and heartier, and the tears start to flow. By the Finale and curtain call and bows, the whole thing turns into a big kitchen party! It's all a bit overwhelming for us all to be here doing this." said Madden.
"It's a lovely coming home..." gushed actor Cory O'Brien, who plays local constable Oz Fudge in the show. "I would say the cast has always felt a large responsibility to honor these people and their stories. That responsibility has been intensified greatly, knowing that we are doing it here on the Rock where the stories happened." The "real" Oz Fudge, notorious for his "STFD" (slow the f**k down) speeding tickets was in attendance for the first performance.
Creative consultant for the show, Michael Rubinoff, described the atmosphere following the first performance, noting "Much of the humor resonated in a more hearty way. They see themselves warmly portrayed and let out these knowing laughs. You just felt the sense of community all around you. As the show crescendoed to the finale you felt the genuine appreciation and support of the audience. It is such a unique and uplifting response from the Islanders."
The company prepared for the concerts on their final week of performances in The Royal Alexandra Theatre - the production must vacate to make room for the Toronto production of Dear Evan Hansen and is transferring to the Elgin Theatre beginning February 5th.
"There was a lot of preparation that started when the original company did this version in Gander a couple of years ago. With the help of our amazing Resident Director Dayna Tekatch, we took that staging 'bible' and implemented it. It was definitely an intense process..." said actor Ali Momen who plays, Kevin J., Ali, and others.
"Along with an 8 show week, talk-backs, holidays, and new standby rehearsals, we've really only had around 25/30 hrs to learn a completely different staging of a show that has been in our bodies for over 400 performances. It feels a bit hectic but really exciting and fun!" said Kristen Peace who plays Bonnie, and others.
Peace herself had a very Come From Away moment in the local Tim Horton's in St. John's which earned her a new local nickname. Anyone who's seen the show knows "everything starts and ends at Tim Horton's."
"I've been frequenting a local Tim's and one of the sweet workers pointed at the large jewelled pin I have on my winter coat. She commented in her distinct and unmistakably brilliant accent 'Hello m'luv, I like dat 'ting ya gots on der!' ... and I said thank you so much."
"She continued, 'Hey, it matches your scarf!' and I replied 'Yes it does, I did that on purpose.' Then, with the most beautiful, warm smile and a wink she responded 'Well look atchoo fancy pants!' ... and I am now known as fancy pants in the Tim's".
Come From Away continues to have incredible success on Broadway, and worldwide. "It's an incredible story, gorgeously told and it's about Canadians which is rare..." notes Lisa Horner, who portrays Beuhla (and others) in the show. "... But mainly I think it's because it's about kindness and empathy in a very dark part of history. That seems to be in desperate need right now."
Madden suggests "[Come From Away] allows the audience members to reflect on their own emotional experiences with the tragedies of 9/11 while simultaneously learning fascinating new uplifting details about the events of the week that followed. For many, it re-contextualizes that event in a very profound way... and in so doing, it reconnects them to what really matters in life - love, compassion, empathy, kindness."
"We never expected the show to go as far as it has, but it is a testament to the story that we're telling. Not only is it universal, in that on that day we all wanted to help and felt helpless, but I think the story reminds us that we can respond with generosity to tragedy, and that we can in fact practice kindness every day..." co-creator Irene Sankoff reflected on the show's success. "There's never a bad time to tell a story about human empathy, but particularly these days when our newsfeeds are so filled with divisive anger and fear, a story about people overcoming their differences to form a larger community feels important. It's certainly been important to us - and we are grateful for the honor of telling this story every day around the world."
Asked what the cast is looking forward to doing most in Newfoundland, O'Brien exclaims "We're getting a right proper screech in when we get to Gander! I'm really looking forward to getting there before heading back to Toronto."
Next for Come From Away? A production in London's West End opens next week, followed by the re-opening of the Toronto production at the Elgin Theatre February 5th, and a new company opening in Melbourne this summer. The North American tour continues to play to capacity crowds across the United States and other Canadian cities, as does the Broadway production. A major motion picture is also in the works.
Photo: Christina Marshall / Instagram / The Canadian Company of Come From Away following a performance at the Holy Heart Theatre in St. John's, Newfoundland.
COME FROM AWAY tells the remarkable true story of 7,000 stranded passengers and the small town in Newfoundland that welcomed them. Cultures clashed and nerves ran high, but uneasiness turned into trust, music soared into the night, and gratitude grew into enduring friendships. On September 11, 2001 the world stopped. On September 12, their stories moved us all.
COME FROM AWAY features a book, music and lyrics by two-time Tony Award nominees and Outer Critics Circle Award and Drama Desk Award winners Irene Sankoff & David Hein, direction by Tony Award winner and Outer Critics Circle Award winner Christopher Ashley (Memphis), musical staging by two-time Tony Award nominee Kelly Devine (Rocky), and music supervision by Ian Eisendrath (A Christmas Story).
COME FROM AWAY features scenic design by Tony Award winner Beowulf Boritt, costume design by Tony Award nominee Toni-Leslie James, lighting design by two-time Tony Award winner Howell Binkley, sound design by Tony Award nominee and Outer Critics Circle Award winner Gareth Owen, orchestrations by two-time Tony Award nominee August Eriksmoen, and music arrangements by Ian Eisendrath.
The Toronto company of Come From Away features Saccha Dennis, Steffi DiDomenicantonio, Barbara Fulton, Lisa Horner, James Kall, George Masswohl, Ali Momen, Jack Noseworthy, Cory O'Brien, Kristen Peace, Eliza-Jane Scott, Kevin Vidal, Susan Dunstan, Kate Etienne, Amir Haidar, Jeff Madden, David Silvestri and Cailin Stadnyk.
COME FROM AWAY was developed at the Canadian Music Theatre Project (Michael Rubinoff Producer, Sheridan College in Oakville, ON), and was further developed at Goodspeed Musicals' Festival of New Artists, in East Haddam, CT. It was also part of the National Alliance of Musical Theatre's Festival of New Musicals in New York 2013. The Canada Council for the Arts, The Ontario Arts Council, and the Fifth Avenue Theatre in Seattle, WA, also provided development support.