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BWW Blog: Come From Away, Coming to the Screen

The significance of Come from Away’s upcoming proshot in the landscape of filmed musicals

BWW Blog: Come From Away, Coming to the Screen
Seeing Come from Away on Broadway
(and meeting cast member Jenn Colella)
was one of my favorite theatrical experiences ever -
and I'm so excited for
a broader audience to
access the show via its filmed version

It was recently announced that Come From Away would be filmed live this spring, for release in September. The show, which tells the story of the transformative welcome the tiny town of Gander, Newfoundland offered the passengers of the thirty-eight airplanes grounded there on 9/11, is one of my absolute favorites -- so I was of course thrilled by the prospect of being able to access it on demand. But on greater reflection, I realized just how significant this proshot would be in the landscape of filmed/movie musicals - and how this change from the originally planned feature film might in some ways be for the better.

In many ways, Come From Away is unique in the recent musical theatre landscape as a whole. The show immediately stands out for the fact that it is completely original: unlike the majority of major Broadway musicals in recent memory, it is not based on any sort of pre-existing source material like a film. But when I saw the original production on Broadway almost four years ago, it was other, more significant features that stand out to me as unlike anything I'd ever seen. There are often two schools of thought about what musical theatre should be, or at least prioritize: some go to the theatre to be entertained or simply uplifted, while others look more primarily for theatre to say something, make a difference, inspire change, or make you think. More effectively than anything I'd seen, Come From Away fully and completely did both. The people of Come From Away are not glamorous chorus girls or heightened theatrical archetypes: they are radically real, normal people who make a huge difference simply putting others first and caring for them and actively making sacrifices for and showing love to them. The musical offers a quiet challenge to its audience members by demonstrating the lifechanging potential of selfless action by figures no different from them. And at the same time, the show offers an incredible dose of joy, comedy, inspiration, and entertainment -- despite a complete lack of classic Broadway motifs like character heels or kick lines (and don't get me wrong, I love character heels and kick lines).

Everything that makes Come From Away special as a musical makes it all the more important on the screen -- and in fact in many ways, the filmed live performance version may better capture these features than the originally planned full feature film. The uniqueness of many features of Come From Away in the broader musical theatre canon of course mean there is also nothing quite like it in the scope of musicals available to those who access the medium primarily through filmed versions.

BWW Blog: Come From Away, Coming to the Screen Of course, many of the features that make Come From Away great are not unique to this show. However, they are rare or absent in the canon of filmed musicals. The staging of Come From Away is not strictly realistic, but is instead beautifully theatrical. Actors transform onstage from one character to another with only the addition or removal of a hat or vest - expressing that change fully through a transformation of their performances (through tools like vocal work and physicality). The set is not a complete reconstruction of an airplane or various buildings in Gander, Newfoundland. Instead, the stage is a largely empty, abstract, blank blue canvas, on which every setting is created by the cast's swirling movement of an array of chairs and an occasional table. And of course, the show's band plays onstage the entire show, sometimes even joining the cast centerstage. Come From Away's brilliant use of doubling, staging/choreography that creates worlds, and an onstage band will all represent beautiful, uniquely theatrical devices - devices that those who experience musical theatre largely from their living rooms might not have gotten the chance to experience. Even among the very few musicals available to stream that maintain a degree of theatricality via a filmed-live format (as opposed to a feature film adaptation), few match Come From Away's simple black-box creativity.

A filmed version of Come From Away's Broadway production will maintain the musical's brilliant uniqueness and make it accessible to a broader audience for years to come. But of course, the show is particularly valuable in this moment. In the midst of a global pandemic, now more than ever we need the hope of human connection, community, love, and light in darkness - a hope that Come From Away offers with incredible power.


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From This Author Student Blogger: Emily Brooks