Review Roundup: COME FROM AWAY Lands on Broadway - All the Reviews!
COME FROM AWAY opens tonight on Broadway, officially sharing the tale of a remarkable little town in Newfoundland with theatre goers. Come From Away features Petrina Bromley (Stratford's As You Like It); Geno Carr (The Old Globe's Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas); Jenn Colella(If/Then); Joel Hatch (Annie); Rodney Hicks (The Scottsboro Boys); Kendra Kassebaum (Wicked); Tony Award nominee Chad Kimball (Memphis); Lee MacDougall (Stratford's The Music Man); Caesar Samayoa (Sister Act); Q. Smith(Mary Poppins); Astrid Van Wieren (North American premiere of Mamma Mia!);Sharon Wheatley (Avenue Q); Josh Breckenridge (The Scottsboro Boys); Susan Dunstan (The Lion King US National Tour); Tamika Lawrence(If/Then) and Tony LePage (Rock of Ages).
In a heartbeat, 38 planes and 6,579 passengers were forced to land in Gander, Newfoundland, doubling the population of one small town on the edge of the world. On September 11, 2001 the world stopped. On September 12, their stories moved us all.
Let's see what the critics had to say...
Ben Brantley, The New York Times: Try, if you must, to resist the gale of good will that blows out of "Come From Away," the big bearhug of a musical that opened on Sunday night at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater. But even the most stalwart cynics may have trouble staying dry-eyed during this portrait of heroic hospitality under extraordinary pressure...this Canadian-born production, written by Irene Sankoff and David Hein and directed by Christopher Ashley, is as honorable in its intentions as it is forthright in its sentimentality. And it may provide just the catharsis you need in an American moment notorious for dishonorable and divisive behavior...the show - based on interviews with the people who inspired it - covers a vast expanse of sensitive material with a respect for its complexity. It understands that much of what it portrays is guaranteed to stir fraught memories among many of us. And it mostly refrains from overegging what could have been a treacly, tear-salted pudding. Instead, it sustains an air of improvisational urgency, which feels appropriate to a show about making do in crisis, and it doesn't linger on obvious moments of heartbreak and humanity.
Michael Dale, BroadwayWorld: COME FROM AWAY, the inspiring, funny and kick-ass beautiful new musical serving as the Broadway debut for the married team of Irene Sankoff and David Hein, who co-authored the book and score, takes a true story that began on September 11th, 2001, and tells it in an exhilarating fashion that celebrates decency and human kindness. The helpers of Come From Away were not in a position to risk their lives on that tragic day, but they were given the opportunity to open their hearts and, as dramatized on the Schoenfeld stage, they gloriously did so....As a theatre critic, I'm often asked by people I meet for recommendations. Before answering, I always ask what kind of plays or musicals they usually like, so I can match them up with something they'd more likely enjoy. As long as Come From Away is playing on Broadway, I will recommend it to everyone. Everyone.
Robert Kahn, NBC New York: Colella's melodic solo, "Me and the Sky," is a high point in a show where the songs are consistently interesting...Some of the characters are real; others are recognized to be composite sketches of the people whom writers Irene Sankoff and David Hein met during a 10th anniversary reunion in Newfoundland. Inevitably, many of the portrayals feel like stock characters-the blustery mayor, etc.-but the acting is excellent all around...There was discipline used here. There's no footage of burning towers, crashing planes or falling bodies. "Come From Away" manages to find a spiritual angle to a horrific story, depicting the goodness in humanity while still allowing us room for the feelings of loneliness and fear that will always be connected to that time.
Matt Windman, amNY: The cast is made of versatile performers including Broadway veterans such as Jenn Colella, Rodney Hicks, Chad Kimball and Kendra Kassebaum, who are able to handle the fast pace and quick changes. It's a heartwarming story told with high energy, not to mention an effective seminar on crisis management and a persuasive advertisement for Canadian tourism. (Not surprisingly, Justin Trudeau is expected to attend the show later this week.) But good intentions aside, "Come From Away" has the depth of a Hallmark card and a pub rock score that is generic and unmemorable.
Allison Adato, Entertainment Weekly: If you're an out-of-town visitor to New York looking for a feel-good night of theater, then Come From Away is surely recommended. This new musical tells the true story of how the residents of Gander, a Newfoundland island community of some 9000 people, responded with unparalleled Canadian hospitality to 7,000 stranded international passengers whose planes were diverted when the U.S. airspace closed on Sept. 11, 2001. In 100 heartwarming minutes, the show sets the best aspects of human nature to infectious Celtic folk and Broadway rock.
Tim Teeman, The Daily Beast: Come From Away is more a rambunctious, musical exhalation rather than a deep and thoughtful examination. It's a snapshot of lives far from New York and D.C. in flux. 9/11 is not the show's focus or even default focus: it is simply the event that has brought these people together. The show now finds itself in New York, site of the most iconic tragedy of that day-and a cheery rock-musical about 9/11 may not be the first theatrical choice for those to whom the city has long been home and who may have their own complex relationship to 9/11. For some, maybe the musical itself strikes a bum note: it is not set here, and it is not directly about the human tragedy of that day. But Come From Away doesn't trivialize the events of 9/11 or seek to facetiously co-opt them. It is as simple in its focus as the acts of goodness and gratitude at its thematic core.
Jesse Green, Vulture: That a story is basically true does not make it more believable onstage...Not helping matters is the ambitious number of stories the show wants to tell. The cast of 12 plays at least 40 roles, both locals and plane people, most of them whizzing past our attention too quickly and indistinguishably (despite Toni-Leslie James's clever quick-change costume elements) to make lasting impressions. Even when they do, the show's pageantlike structure, in which bits of story are connected by setting and theme rather than by action, prevents those impressions from deepening over time the way they must. There's a lot of snow in Gander but no accumulation. To make up for it, the production, tightly directed by Christopher Ashley, with a handsome woodsy set by Beowulf Boritt and fine lighting by Howell Binkley, does its damnedest to knock you into submission. The songs, also by Sankoff and Hein, are pleasant, in a folk-rock-meets-Celtic-revival vein that the show exploits with the mercilessness of a phlebotomist. (Cue the fiddle, bodhran, and uilleann pipes.) There is much spirited if obligatory stomping. (The choreography is by Kelly Devine.)
Frank Scheck, The Hollywood Reporter: The true-life story that inspired the new musical Come From Away would seem like the stuff of a Frank Capra movie. The show relates the tale of how a small Newfoundland town in 2001 found itself unexpectedly hosting 7,000 airline passengers stranded there for days after 9/11. But though the material might have lent itself to sickly sweet sentimentality, creators Irene Sankoff and David Hein have crafted a heartwarming and thoroughly entertaining musical. Especially in these politically fractious times, it should prove a true crowd-pleaser on Broadway following previous hit engagements in San Diego, Washington D.C. and Toronto.
Jonathan Mandell, DC Theatre Scene: Come From Away is certainly feel-good - also rhythmic, well staged, often funny...much of the appeal of Come From Away comes not from individual performances but from the precise and lively ensemble work, aided by an eight-piece band that attempts to recreate the folksy, uptempo music of Newfoundland, using fiddle, accordion, and such exotic musical instruments as uilleann pipes (bagpipes) bodhran (an Irish drum) and bouzouki (a Greek stringed instrument.) Director Christopher Ashley's clever staging at one point turns a group of townsfolk into the air traffic controllers and then into the passengers of a single airplane, all done in an instant with Howell Binkley's lighting and just a few chairs. With the seamless flowing of townsfolk into plane people and back again, it's as if Come From Away is trying to say that, at heart, we are all the same.
Robert Hofler, TheWrap: Sankoff and Hein's book tries to drum up suspense in the show's opening scenes by telling us that few of these visitors to Gander knew about the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, because few people back then owned cell phones. Really? As songwriters, this duo relies on a strong percussive element that's so incessant that their songs take on a militaristic flair. And they're also very, very loud. Gareth Owen's sound design is the most abrasive to grace a Broadway stage since the entry of "Waitress" a year ago. Dialogue is shrill and disembodied from the actors, and when the ensemble sings any of the show's foot-stomping anthems, the lyrics are indecipherable. Come from Away is a musical about hope, perseverance and people coming together to help each other in difficult times. The Gander townspeople have much in common with the citizens of Meredith Willson's River City, only they're much more adorable.
Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune: Come From Away will not be remembered for its distinguished score, the rousing exuberance of several of its Celtic-rooted numbers notwithstanding. It will not be remembered for the poetry of its book nor for its sophisticated examination of human behavior in rural communities. Rather, it is determined, with good humor and generous Canadian self-deprecation, to remind us of one of the few happy stories to emerge from that terrible day. There are a few moments of conflict with an Egyptian passenger on a day of much mistrust, but they are resolved with relative ease. The Gander of Come From Away takes a while to learn how to be kind to its visitors, but it sure figures it out. Over donuts at Tim Hortons.
Robert Feldberg, NorthJersey.com: Imagine a musical, based on a true story, that celebrates kindness and charity toward distressed foreigners. At a moment in history when certain politicians are telling us to fear and reject immigrants, we're shown ordinary people who act spontaneously out of a concern for others. Come from Away, which opened Sunday at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, doesn't have an ironic or cynical bone in its body. It's a celebration of the best human instincts, and, particularly coming at this time, doesn't seem at all hokey. It's cheering and refreshing.
Adam Feldman, Time Out NY: Although the residual shock of 9/11 gives it a strong current of emotion, Come from Away's multiple narratives mostly have low stakes; it's essentially a show about a bunch of people inconvenienced at once. When it touches on weightier concerns-one passenger is the mother of a missing firefighter-it falters; it is better at celebrating less consequential things, like a rowdy evening of initiation at a local bar, where the visitors are urged to kiss a cod and try a local rum called screech. A band of eight plays the spirited, Celtic-accented score, heavy on fiddle and bodhran and flute. Under Christopher Ashley's fluid direction, the 12 versatile actors form a true ensemble cast, playing dozens of roles as both the Plane People and the plain people who welcome them to their rock...Despite minor stumbles of craft, Come from Away makes a persuasive case for the value of good intentions. For this kind of uplift you don't need planes.
Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News: It's a story that sings...The score consists nearly entirely of group numbers. Music is flavored by Celtic folk, gentle rock, foot-stomping rhythms and perhaps a whisper of Gordon Lightfoot. While rousing and rich in harmony, the music suffers from sameness and a sound mix that obscures lyrics. Director Christopher Ashley guides the excellent cast and energizing staging. The show glides along, a nonstop one hour and 40 minute trip. It's a singing reminder that when things are at their worst, people can be at their best.
Peter Marks, Washington Post: The lump that forms in your throat in the opening minutes of "Come From Away" - and remains lodged there for 100 buoyant minutes more - is the physiological confirmation that this effervescent musical, enveloped in Canadian good will, is an antidote for what ails the American soul...The alternating stories of the townspeople and the strangers in their midst - all played by a dozen superbly cast actors - are communicated vivaciously by book and songwriters Irene Sankoff and David Hein, in a bracingly kinetic production directed by Christopher Ashley, doing some of the most impressive work of his career. With the arrival of "Come From Away" to Broadway's 2016-17 season, joining such accomplished new shows as "Dear Evan Hansen" and "Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812,"the Tony race for best musical of the year just got interesting.
Linda Winer, Newsday: Could it be? Had the theater finally found a way to sing and dance with dignity regarding 9/11, a catastrophe that has, thus far, been the third rail of theatergoers' emotions? Well, "Come From Away" may not be Broadway's first feel-good musical about the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, but it is a feel-pretty-nice musical. Think of the simple 100-minute show as psychological training wheels, perhaps a way to ease us into the unbearable stories our playwrights might someday ask us to confront.
Jeremy Gerard, Deadline: Hein and Sarnoff are not Sondheim. The folksy songs in Come From Away are nearly all expository rather than revelatory (a key exception being the coming-of-age number "Me And The Sky," sung with perfect fervor by Jenn Colella as Beverley Bass, the first female captain of a commercial airline). The show, staged with kinetic enthusiasm by Christopher Ashley with Kelly Devine, positively reeks of integrity - positive being the operative word. In the company of 16, nearly all play multiple roles. The standouts, in addition to Colella, are Kendra Kassebaum as a novice reporter, Chad Kimball and Caesar Samayoa as boyfriends named Kevin, Rodney Hicks as a skeptic finally undone by generosity, and Astrid Van Wieren as a voice of reason. Come From Away eludes the jaded critic's arsenal of dismissive thrusts. It's necessary balm for this mean time.
Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy