BWW Review: COME FROM AWAY Simply Shines at Texas Performing Arts
Ben Brantley of the New York Times called COME FROM AWAY a "big bear hug of a musical." He wrote his review in 2017 when the show premiered on Broadway, and now, nearly three years later, the touring show makes its way to Austin. As Brantley noted then, "it may provide just the catharsis you need in an American moment notorious for dishonorable and divisive behavior." Those moments seem to be coming hard and fast these days. COME FROM AWAY is instead, a heartwarming reminder of how far hospitality can go and how profoundly important it is when tragedy strikes.
I was apprehensive when I heard about COME FROM AWAY those few years ago. It's entirely possible for a story like this to turn into quite a saccharine musical. Imagine it: Irene Sankoff and David Hein, the husband-and-wife writing team behind COME FROM AWAY, took the story of Gander Newfoundland's residents and the "plane people" who were diverted there on 9/11 and turned it into a brisk paced heartwarming musical. Certainly we're bound to be played by such a story. I can't imagine how one would avoid getting their emotional buttons pushed by a story set on the day international terrorism came to America. What we surprisingly get though, instead of a manipulated emotional journey, is an earnest and authentic look at what happened over those few days in Gander. Turns out, this is also a fast paced, funny, and loving narrative of the 6,565 airline passengers who suddenly doubled the population of Gander on September 11, 2001.
And paced well it is indeed. Twelve actors deftly play all the town's featured inhabitants and grounded passengers. An uncomplicated set of wooden chairs and tables set against a backdrop of huge trees greet us as the show starts and we're off on a wonderful 100 minute roller coaster ride deftly directed by Tony winner Christopher Ashley and brilliantly staged by Kelly Devine. Surely there were more than twelve people up there? So well done was the pacing and perfectly coordinated was the stagecraft that we are immediately and continuously swept away.
The remarkable ensemble cast of this touring show is flawless and sharp. Moving from character to character and scene to scene so seamlessly is a different kind of skill than building on the same single story arc and character every night; rather this cast builds on dozens at a time. And we go with them where they go; we are delighted, heartbroken, frustrated and fall in love, right alongside them. In a cast this outstanding, everyone takes a star turn, but I did find I had a couple of favorites. James Earl Jones II as Bob and Others is a true gem here, and as a skeptical New Yorker, his character serves as the cautious or jaded among us. Any of our skepticism about the generosity of the folks in Gander breaks down along with Bob's. Oh, and his brief hilarious moments as an airline pilot do remind us of exactly whose son he is. Sharone Sayegh's Bonnie is simply adorable, and Marika Aubrey drew cheers with her "Me and The Sky." Every single cast member of this show is truly exceptional.
COME FROM AWAY is not a flashy musical, though Sankoff and Hein's music is rich, full and bright. But COME FROM AWAY doesn't need to be flashy, no, in fact it shouldn't be flashy. The strength of this show is in the story and how it's told. This is, most of all, an honest narrative of endearing hospitality and the relationships that bind us when we're faced with a tragic situation. COME FROM AWAY is a shining 100 minutes that reminds us of the best of who we can be. In these divisive times, this might seem nostalgic rather than hopeful, but it's not. It's a story of humanity at its best. If you need a bear hug like this - and don't we all? - gift yourself with the Tony nominated COME FROM AWAY. It's simply marvelous.
COME FROM AWAY
Directed by Christopher Ashley
Musical Direction by Cameron Moncur
Bass Concert Hall
2350 Robert Dedman Dr
Austin, TX 78705
Tickets available here
100 minutes, no intermission
Photo credit: Matthew Murphy