BWW Review: Magnificent Musical COME FROM AWAY Lands at the Ahmanson
Come From Away/Book, Lyrics and Music by Irene Sankoff and David Hein/directed by Christopher Ashley/musical staging by Kelly Devine/music supervison by Ian Eisendrath/Ahmanson Theatre/through January 6
It's hardly ordinary for a musical to have it all. Come From Away is one of these extraordinary musical ventures that has a heartpounding score, dynamic true story, brilliant direction by Christopher Ashley and an incredible 12 member ensemble who give new meaning to ensemble playing. Now onstage at the Ahmanson through January 6, 2019, Come From Away should be at the very top of your must see list.
Book writers Irene Sankoff and David Hein show what happened when 38 planes were diverted to Gander, Newfoundland on September 11, 2001. Because of the New York and Washington bombings, no one could enter the US. 7000 passengers from across the globe who were aboard the 38 planes were put into shelters for 5 days while the leaders of Gander supervised and literally fed, cleaned and tried to comfort them. Sankoff and Hein have also written the passionately surging music and lyrics. I have never seen such an even and steady flow of dialogue to song and back in a show. Lyrics and words blend together as if in one continuously smooth monologue. It is so well coordinated by both writers/composers that you are pulled in, held onto and never allowed to let go.
Director Ashley wondrously moves, with Kelly Divine's musical staging, the 12 actors around the stage with 12 chairs - all completely different from one another - being set up in different configurations to show the interior of one of the planes, the airfield, a local school, shelter, mayoral offices or local bar. It's amazing to watch the actors one second be the inhabitants of Gander and the next the strangers on a plane who have not slept in over 24 hours and are worried to death about what will happen in their immediate future
All of the ensemble are triple threat performers: Andrew Samonky, Nick Duckart, Julie Johnson, Danielle K. Thomas, Megan McGinnis, Chamblee Ferguson, James Earl Jones II, Kevin Carolan, Harter Clingman, Becky Gulsvig, Christine Toy Johnson and Emily Walton, all of whom play various roles. Each has his or her turn in the spotlight but it is hard to forget especially Gulsvig "Me and the Sky" with her ode to women pilots and to all female role models. Nor is it easy to forget Samonsky as Kevin T and Duckart as Kevin J when they find out that other gays exist in this forsaken place and exclaim one of the funniest passages in the script, "We somehow ended up in the gayest town in Newfoundland...there must be something in the water." And one of the homophobic rednecks replies, "That's why I only drink the beer." Another sad but memorable character is Hannah and Thomas is defintely a standout as she anxiously tries to hunt down her firefighter son in NYC.
Let's pay homage to the great creative team: set designer Beowulf Boritt, costume designer Toni-Leslie James, lighting design by Howell Binkley and sound by Gareth Owen, all of whom create a wondrous spectacle through artistic simplicity.
If I had only one show to see, it would be Come From Away. Everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing on that fateful day in 2001, but to visualize and feel the impact on 7000 different people in Gander with a real sense of community involvement adds special appreciation. Why Come From Away did not win the Tony for Best Musical boggles my mind!
(photo credit: Matthew Murphy)