Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

Review: COME FROM AWAY Reminds us of Humanity in Challenging Times at Cadillac Palace Theatre

Running through March 6 at Chicago's Cadillac Palace Theatre

Review: COME FROM AWAY Reminds us of Humanity in Challenging Times at Cadillac Palace Theatre

When there's a crisis, how do you respond? Maybe you shake your fists, rant, or rave. Perhaps you have a flight or fight type of response or freeze in your tracks. Or maybe you're like the people of Gander, Newfoundland who rolled up their sleeves and got to work on the morning of September 11, 2001. Come From Away celebrates these brave men and women who welcomed the stranger in the face of one of the worst catastrophes in modern history. This national tour at Chicago's Cadillac Palace gives us a show that is just as heartwarming as it is sobering, reminding us that we belong to each other.

Come From Away has many metaphysical elements that make it work so well. Highlighting the connectedness of the community, almost all the numbers are sung by the entire company. Each actor plays multiple parts with little to no change in costume, reminding us that it could be any one of us who either seeks - or is in a position to provide- refuge. There is a constant hum, a heartbeat, to this performance which serves to remind the audience that the work never stops. Director Christopher Ashley brought to life one of the most powerful shows about ordinary people with both strength and exquisite delicacy.

The show opens with the memorable and catchy "Welcome to the Rock" that sets the stage for the rest of the production with its upbeat, rhythmic tempo, capturing the plucky nature of the Gander residents. The scene is set for a cozy town where everyone knows each other but has its own share of problems too. Kevin Carolan takes charge as Gander's affable mayor, his easy yet firm nature giving him the aura of a capable leader. Also playing a Gander native is Janice, played by the incredibly winsome Julia Knitel. Knitel's ever so earnest, sometimes awkward but always capable portrayal of this green reporter made her a truly magnetic presence onstage, impossible to take your eyes off.

As the reality of the tragedy takes hold of the town, characters like Beulah (Julie Johnson) and Bonnie (Sharone Sayegh) step up in the community. Though their charges are different as Beulah takes charge of preparing shelter and Bonnie commits herself to tending to the forgotten animals in storage, both roles are expressed as being of equal importance. Johnson portrays a character that is so steady in the face of conflict that she makes all those around her calmer and more confident by association. Sayegh's Bonnie was one of a fierce determination as she cut through every barrier to ensure the dogs, cats, and even monkeys were not abandoned in the chaos of the tragedy.

Review: COME FROM AWAY Reminds us of Humanity in Challenging Times at Cadillac Palace Theatre Looking to the strangers who "come from away," we find a fearless leader in the pilot Beverley (Marika Aubrey). Though she is just as confused as her passengers, she keeps a level head and instills order and peace on her aircraft. Aubrey's rendition of "Me and the Sky" was utterly moving as she shared her triumphant story of achieving her dreams and becoming a pilot in the male-dominated field.

One poignant element of Come From Away is how it represents the experience of the Muslim passenger, Ali (played by the talented Nick Duckart). Although many Americans "moved on" from the tragic events of 9/11 within months, that was not the case for most Muslim Americans who are still dealing with the Islamophobia that this day inspired. Duckart gave us a sensitive portrayal of this unjust and dehumanizing treatment. Review: COME FROM AWAY Reminds us of Humanity in Challenging Times at Cadillac Palace Theatre Navigating an equally challenging role, Duckart also portrayed one half of "the Kevins," a gay couple who finds their relationship on the rocks in Gander. Duckart's Kevin counterpart was played by Jeremy Woodward, whose resilience shone through this glass-half-full character.

While some relationships flounder in crisis, others flourish. That was the case with Nick and Diane (Chamblee Ferguson and Christine Toy Johnson, respectively). Their budding romance brought a joyful levity to this performance. Other complex personal struggles were brought to life by Danielle K Thomas in the role of Hannah, as she sat in limbo waiting for news of her firefighter son, and James Earl Jones II as he delivered the perspective of African immigrants in a strange country and culture.

The intersection on display in this show is explored so beautifully in the prayer sequence (Woodward, Duckart and Harter Clingman). Never have I witnessed a scene in musical theatre that weaves together Christian, Islamic and Jewish prayers into one harmonious expression of faith. In a world where secularity is increasingly the norm, it is good to be reminded that religion can bring out the best in us.

Lighting in this show perfectly matched the mood depending on the scene: warm lighting for the gatherings at Tim Horton's, and cool blues for the transit scenes. To accommodate the many transitions, costumes were simple but effective, displaying everyday wear of ordinary people in the early 2000s. Finally, this incredible show would not be half as charming without the live folk musicians. Musical conductor Myrna Conn synchronized fiddles, flutes and ugly sticks galore that gave this piece the cherry on top of authenticity that it needed.

As Fred Rogers famously said, "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'" Come From Away reminds us of this and takes it a step further, saying, "Be the helper."

How To Get Tickets

Come From Away at The Cadillac Palace in Chicago runs through March 6. Tickets can be purchased on the Broadway in Chicago website.




From This Author - Kathleen Anwar

Kathleen Anwar graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a BA in government and a minor in computer science. During her time there, she performed in the Annual Madrigal Dinner (now in its... (read more about this author)


Review: MY FAIR LADY Ignites Nostalgia at Cadillac Palace Theatre
July 5, 2022

Though this show at Chicago’s Cadillac Palace brings to life time-honored classics from a sweeping soundtrack such as I Could Have Danced All Night and On the Street Where You Live, its three-hour runtime and dialogue-heavy script can make it a challenging watch for some viewers.

BWW Review: TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD Brings to Life American Classic at James M. Nederlander Theatre
May 22, 2022

This touring production brought to life by Aaron Sorkin brings home a story that is so central to our culture and history; truly a must-see for anyone who cares to understand more about the best- and worst- of America. Read our critic's review.

BWW Review: ONCE UPON A MATTRESS at Theo Ubique
March 23, 2022

Theo Ubique brings to life the classic The Princess and the Pea with a modern (and saucy!) twist.

BWW Review: COME FROM AWAY Reminds us of Humanity in Challenging Times at Cadillac Palace Theatre
February 25, 2022

This national tour at Chicago's Cadillac Palace gives us a show that is just as heartwarming as it is sobering, reminding us that we belong to each other.

BWW Review: Reimagined OKLAHOMA! Replaces Feel-Good Energy for Macabre Spectacle at CIBC Theater
January 15, 2022

Roger and Hammerstein's seminal work of musical theatre Oklahoma! has long been a favorite of those who grew up with the 1955 film starring Shirley Jones and Gordon MacRae with it's incredibly catchy company numbers and timeless message of following one's heart no matter the cost.