BWW Review: COME FROM AWAY at Wharton Center Will Give You Endless Chills, Guaranteed
As the Newfoundlanders sing in Come From Away's opening number, "Welcome to the Rock!" Just through this Sunday, September 15th, you can catch this recent Broadway hit at Wharton Center for Performing Arts in East Lansing as it makes its Michigan debut. This poignant yet uplifting tale opened on Broadway in 2017, is still running to this day, and has since launched productions in cities around the world including London and Melbourne. Canadian writing duo Irene Sankoff and David Hein, who are also husband and wife, wrote the book, music, and lyrics to this gorgeous musical.
Come From Away takes place on September 11th, 2001 and on the immediate days afterward. Wharton Center has the unique gift of being one of the few cities around the world that will have this show during the 18th anniversary week of these events. It's a special honor that was not lost on me as I watched Come From Away unfold.
Sankoff and Hein transport you to Newfoundland, Canada, where a small town called Gander took in 38 planes with nearly 7,000 stranded passengers when the U.S. airspace was closed for the first time in history. This is absolutely a true story, and the characters in the show are based on real people.
One might think that a show based on the events of 9/11 might be a bit morbid for a musical, but Come From Away completely defies all of your expectations. Naturally, it does have the raw emotions and tension that a piece of media about this topic would possess, but it also has so much more. Come From Away is filled with heart, generosity, the power of human connection in the midst of tragedy, and yes, even some humor. It's everything you could possibly want in a musical.
September 11th, 2001 was precisely three weeks after my fifth birthday. I'm not going to lie and say that I remember that fateful day, because I don't. My lack of memory is just one reason why I was so looking forward to Come From Away. Before seeing this musical at Wharton Center, I had never consumed a piece of art that narrated the events of 9/11. Consequently, Come From Away is a door for me (and other people who don't remember 9/11) to really understand what it was like to be directly affected by this tragedy.
I could talk forever about the infectious and soulful music, the Tony-winning direction by Christopher Ashley, and masterful storytelling that you will witness when you see Come From Away. But I'm going to focus on how seamlessly the main theme of this show, the aforementioned human connection, comes about.
This musical has just 12 ensemble members, but each of them plays several characters. It's hard to believe there are only 12 people on stage at a time because it truly feels like there's 50 or more. While each and every one of them was perfect in their respective roles, there are a few I'd like to briefly highlight.
It wouldn't be a Come From Away review if I didn't talk about the actress that plays Beverley and others. In this case, that actress is Marika Aubrey, who I recently had the absolute pleasure to interview. Not only does her overall charm suit her characters beautifully, but her rendition of "Me And The Sky" will undoubtedly give you chills.
Another actress I'd like to give a shout out to is Danielle K. Thomas, who plays Hannah and others. Thomas delivers one of the most heart-wrenching songs in the whole show, "I Am Here," about Hannah's yearning to be in New York. Her son is a firefighter, and Hannah wants nothing more than to be searching for him and to be there when he finally comes home. This song, and Hannah's overarching story, acts as the primary connection to what happened in New York. Tears are inevitable, so bring tissues.
Lastly, I'd like to mention Julie Johnson and James Earl Jones II, whose comedic timing repeatedly had audiences bursting with laughter. They took lines that were already funny and somehow made them better.
As said earlier, I could talk forever about all the things I loved about Come From Away. Ultimately, everyone should experience it for themselves and develop their own opinions since every person has a different connection to 9/11. As a result, each audience member will leave feeling a different way about this event that's been a cornerstone of American culture for the past 18 years.
In the song "Somewhere In The Middle Of Nowhere," Sankoff and Hein describe this feeling the best: "You found your heart, but left a part of you behind."
For more information and tickets, call 1-800-WHARTON, check out Wharton Center online at whartoncenter.com, or visit the Auto-Owners Insurance Ticket Office at Wharton Center.