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Review: COME FROM AWAY dazzles with sheer exuberance, leading to a surprisingly moving conclusion.

Based on a true story of compassion in the face of horror, COME FROM AWAY dazzles with sheer exuberance, leading to a surprisingly moving conclusion.

Review: COME FROM AWAY dazzles with sheer exuberance, leading to a surprisingly moving conclusion.
Marika Aubrey

Based on a true story of compassion in the face of horror, COME FROM AWAY dazzles with sheer exuberance, leading to a surprisingly moving conclusion. When terrorists took control of airplanes, using them as weapons and crashing them near the Pentagon and in New York City on September 11, 2001, the world came to a crashing halt. And that included the small town of Gander on the island of Newfoundland on the eastern end of Canada. Thirty-eight planes were diverted to Gander, depositing 7,000 shell-shocked passengers, almost doubling the population of the town. The citizens, being good Canadians, rose to the occasion and took care of those who were stranded, housing, feeding, and befriending them.

Populated with a cross-section of mankind, the show is able to tell many differing and intersecting stories, almost all based in reality. The townsfolk are all zany with broad Canadian accents and they come across as good-natured and welcoming, living up to the reputation of our friends in the Great White North. The grounded passengers are their own hodgepodge, including a Muslim chef, a gay couple from Los Angeles, and a mother of a New York firefighter. There's a sweetness to the story and the characters, despite their uncertainty and the disorientation of what will happen next. Everyone in the ensemble gets their chance to shine with no one really taking the mantle of lead, which is unusual for a show like this.

Review: COME FROM AWAY dazzles with sheer exuberance, leading to a surprisingly moving conclusion.
Nick Duckart and Jeremy Woodard

While the material is harrowing and tense, this is really a rock musical-comedy at heart. Some of it comes across so broadly it's like community theater, and other spots fall flat, but its utter charm smooths those moments over. The energy never flags due much in part to the book, music, and lyrics by Irene Sankoff and David Hein, and the ace band, who get to come out and take center stage at the conclusion of the show. A scene in a local tavern is so rousing, you'll want to jump to your feet. And in the end, out of the blue, COME FROM AWAY is deeply moving. The cumulative effect is astonishing.

Perhaps that's why the show was a sensation when it launched, garnering seven Tony nominations, winning Best Direction of a Musical for Christopher Ashley (who directs here), three Drama Desk Awards, and Four Outer Critics Circle Awards, and becoming the longest-running Canadian musical on Broadway. It even received a Grammy nomination for Best Musical Theater Album. It clearly spoke to audiences when it debuted.

And it's still speaking to them.

Review: COME FROM AWAY dazzles with sheer exuberance, leading to a surprisingly moving conclusion.
The band taking to the stage

Despite being about finding humanity in the midst of inhumanity in 2001, this musical couldn't be more relevant today as we become increasingly fractured by and inured to the horrors that surround us: mass shootings, COVID, racism, natural disasters. The world feels like a hopeless place so much of the time that it's difficult to remember that in the end, we're all connected and need each other to get by. Perhaps that's why COME FROM AWAY is so poignant. It reminds of us our own humanity and the need for that in others.

COME FROM AWAY is performed at the Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Avenue through June 12. Get tickets at CenterTheatreGroup.org or by calling 213.972.4400.

Photos by Matthew Murphy



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