BWW Review: COME FROM AWAY at Kansas City Broadway Series
COME FROM AWAY is a 2017 musical play that memorializes the best of how humans can react in the face of tragedy. It is a testament and also the best new musical in many years.
Most of us who are old enough to remember 911 know exactly where we were and what we were doing on the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001. This terrible event changed the world in ways we are still learning to cope.
Impossible losses on Manhattan, at the Pentagon, and in a rural Pennsylvania farm field happened in milliseconds. Twin-hundred-story buildings crumbled like cardboard. Thousands working inside and hundreds of rescuers died in the blink of an eye.
COME FROM AWAY tells the true story of how Gander Newfoundland and other smaller cities in Canada cared for, extended generosity to, and showed empathy for thousands of sudden refugees who showed up on their doorstep one fall day.
Gander Newfoundland is a small city of about ten thousand people, but with an outsized airport. Gander is that place which had served as a refueling depot for international flights before commercial aircraft could carry enough airplane gas to safely cross the Atlantic Ocean. All those international planes in the air had to land somewhere in the aftermath of the 911 attack. Thirty-eight airplanes and almost 6600 people landed at Gander.
There are recognizable characters in this excellent cast of twelve, but COME FROM AWAY is the ultimate ensemble piece. The show is warm and funny and exuberant and puzzled and sad. Each actor assumes multiple roles as they stand in for the more than sixteen thousand Gander Newfoundland citizens, their unexpected guests, thousands more of our neighbors to the north, and the passengers on more than 200 flights that were diverted to remote airports across the continent.
Musical staging by Kelly Devine, a simple but outstanding set vision and design by Beowulf Boritt, dramatic lighting by Howell Brinkley, and superb direction by Christopher Ashley are all the next thing to flawless. This show has some of the most intricate blocking schemes I've ever seen.
Each of the listed twelve actors and the six standbys all deserve outstanding mentions. This show does not work without total team effort. They are Sharone Sayegh, Harter Clingman, Marika Aubrey, Julia Knitel, James Earl Jones II, Kevin Carolan, Andrew Samonsky, Chamblee Ferguson, Nick Duckart, Danielle K. Thomas, Julie Johnson, and Christine Toy Johnson. The standby actors are Amelia Cormack, Jenny Ashman, Jane Bunting, Brandon Springman, Kilty Reidy, and Aaron Michael Ray.
Fourteen of the fifteen musical numbers are attributed (at least in part) to the Company rather than to an individual. The individual actors have rewarded the audience with exceptional vocal quality combined with unusual blend. The COME FROM AWAY score is excellent, but unlike a typical Broadway style score. The book and music were written by the Canadian based team of Irene Sankoff and David Hein.
The central conceit of COME FROM AWAY is the focus on the crew and passengers of real American Airlines Flight 49, a Boeing 777, originating at Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris, France and bound for DFW in Dallas Texas. The officer in charge of AA49 was Captain Beverly Bass. Captain Bass was present for the Kansas City opening of COME FROM AWAY. She has seen the show more than 130 times.
Captain Bass was accompanied to Kansas City by retired Canadian Lieutenant General Rick Findley and Canadian Consul-General John Cruickshank. Lt Gen Findley was the shift officer in charge at NORAD when the first hijacked airliner struck the World Trade Center. Mr. Cruickshank was then the publisher of the Chicago Sun-Times, my home town newspaper. He told me that the Sun-Times put out its first Extra edition in many years within hours of the attack.
COME FROM AWAY earned seven 2017 Tony nominations and the Tony Award for Best Director to Christopher Ashley. It earned 2017 Helen Hayes Awards for Outstanding Musical, Outstanding Director, and Outstanding Supporting Actress. It also won 2019 Lawrence Olivier Awards for Best New Musical, Outstanding Achievement in Music, Best Sound Design, and Best Choreography.
COME FROM AWAY continues at the Kansas City Music Hall through Sunday, February 16. Tickets can be purchased online at the Kansas City Broadway Series or by telephone at 816-421-7500. I suggest you not miss this production. It is a special experience.
Photos courtesy of Kansas City Broadway Series and Mathew Murphy.
A Personal Note On COME FROM AWAY
COME FROM AWAY had an unexpected personal resonance. In 2001, I was the Publisher and Vice President for combined operations at a group of six suburban daily newspapers surrounding Washington D.C. operating from Alexandria, Virginia. We were then the National /Capital region's second largest newspaper by circulation. The company also owned affiliated weekly newspapers around the country.
On the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001, I was on a business trip to Dallas Texas. I had just packed my suitcase for a planned flight back from Dallas to Reagan National Airport. The NBC Today show was playing on the room TV. A news bulletin shouted an airplane had just struck the World Trade Center.
At first, the crash was believed to be a small plane. A similar event had occurred during World War II when a B-25 had hit the Empire State Building on a foggy day. Both were terrible accidents, but the buildings seemed not in danger. Twenty minutes later, another airliner slammed into the remaining tower and a fuel-fed inferno spewed from the reverse side of the building. Unconfirmed rumors circulated that a coordinated attack in the DC area was almost simultaneous.
The rumors turned out to be accurate. North American airspace closed. All airplanes in transit were ordered to land. Many were initially unaccounted for. A Muslim terror group claimed responsibility.
Our newspaper in Dallas happened to be one of several Jewish community newspapers. Our staff was frightened out of their wits. By the time I got there, they had locked down all the outside doors. Our corporate offices back in the D.C. area confirmed the third attack. They had heard the explosion on the south side of the Pentagon and had seen the fire plume.
My wife, a teacher, was unreachable. Schools ordered all televisions switched off. Many student's parents commuted to the targeted areas. No one knew who had survived. By the time I reached her by telephone that evening, skies over our home south of Dulles Airport had grown suddenly and oddly silent.
Like the folks in Gander, I was marooned. Washington airports seemed not scheduled to open any time soon. Days later, I endured a tough three day road trip back to D.C. The Pentagon was still smoking. Green road signs leading to the Fourteenth Street Bridge had been taken out by the Pentagon crash. Old Glory hung from the roof of the building west of a gaping hole, charred concrete, and tons of rubble. Visible anti-aircraft launchers had appeared around government areas. They remained a long and constant reminder of the attack whenever one crossed the Potomac River into the Federal area.
COME FROM AWAY serves as a reminder and an example of all those good people of Canada and Dallas and Washington, and New York who overcame the unspeakable.