BWW Review: COME FROM AWAY But Finally Home
There is a day that is crystallized in the American consciousness as a day you will never forget, a day you can recall in perfect detail: September 11, 2001. On that day, so much of the bedrock of humanity felt like it was eroding into chaos as we all watched those planes strike the World Trade Center and reduce it to rubble, again and again. But Come From Away calls on us to remember something different about that day. It hearkens to the heart of what unites humanity rather than divides it. It is a look at the beauty of kindness being lived out in a small community on an island in Canada and how that kindness can overcome even the worst of days.
COME FROM AWAY is nothing short of a whirlwind. It is a fast-paced 90-minute show with a driving narrative and a dynamic cast. It is a true story of how the town of Gander in Newfoundland and its surrounding towns became home to 7,000 stranded airline passengers when American airspace was closed following the events of 9/11. These passengers somehow needed to be fed and housed by an area whose population was only 9,000. At the heart of this story are the townspeople who opened their homes, their schools, their gyms, and their beloved hockey rink without question or concern for themselves.
By far my favorite part of this show were all the character switches. The cast is made up of a short list of named characters who then switch a sweater, a shawl, a pair of glasses, and become someone totally different. These simple conceits were highly effective. One actress who blew me away with her switches was Marika Aubrey as "Beverly/Annette and others." She moved from a native islander to a stranded airline pilot seamlessly. What made her transition most impressive was her change in dialect from a Texan to a Newfoundlander. James Earl Jones II went from a New Yorker to an African man to a swaggering pilot as "Bob and others." This was a strength for the cast as a whole and made their switches even more believable. It was astounding how quickly this cast moved and how they maintained their energy.
Some of the best moments in the show come from when the Newfoundlanders and the passengers take time to cross the borders of labels and unite as fellow human beings. This was epitomized in the scene with the song "Prayer" when everyone begins to pray in their own way, in their own languages and creeds, but they do it together. Much of the story centers on overcoming other issues that plague society, like homophobia and racial profiling. The show does not deny that these problems exist and that they are problems. However, it hinges on the hope that love and acceptance, especially in a time of need, are more important than the labels we put on one another.
Some who attended the January 21st performance were lucky enough to witness a panel of individuals who were in Canada and experienced this story firsthand. The mayor of Gander was one of them, and he summed up Come From Away in three simple words: "People are people." He and his town did not stop to worry about languages, religions, genders, sexualities, or races. They saw people in need and did something about it.
On the morning of September 11, 2001 a full 38 planes carrying 6,579 passengers were diverted to the isolated airspace in Newfoundland, Canada near the town of Gander. The passengers had no idea why, even where they were, or what was happening stateside. They soon learned just how caring and hospitable the locals could be. Gander (and adjacent towns) welcomed them all in, and almost doubled the Gander population in a single day. The people fed them, clothed them and housed them. It was after a couple of days that the the news broke of the terrorist attacks in New York, and the passengers were given phones to contact loved ones. Five days later, the plane people said goodbye and life went back to normal.
The music itself was lovely and seemed to be heavily influenced by traditional Irish tunes that kept a keen, driving rhythm along with some gorgeous and unusual instruments. The various numbers employ rounds, call and response, and spoken word, but only rarely became full cast numbers. In some ways, this is the show's charm and weakness. For me, the music didn't challenge or provoke enough, but the individual stories through the music itself were spot on. One couple gets together and another breaks up, and each individual's story made the musical much more impactful to the overarching content.
The performances were hard to fault. Not everyone shines, which is fine, but as an ensemble, they did something incredible. Standouts for me were Kevin Carolan is galvanizing as the various mayors, and Marika Aubrey gave a striking execution of the show's best number, 'Me and the Sky'. Nick Duckart toggled expertly between his Kevin and an Egyptian man who became immediately sketched due to his race and religion. The whole cast were sweet, engaging. and almost perfectly wholesome.
To know that these stories are true, that people really do have the capacity to be this good, kind, and decent, reminded me what we need to remember most. As created here and told by a humorous, chameleon-like, amazingly talented group of actors, this uplifting story is not just a spark of light in a dark time - it's a spotlight of incredible proportions.
Do not miss your chance to become an honorary islander for a night! Get your tickets for Come From Away only through January 26th.