BWW Review: Uplifting COME FROM AWAY Rocks the Marcus Center
"You are here, at the start of a moment,
On the edge of the world,
Where the river meets the sea.
Here, at the edge of the Atlantic,
On an island in between there and here."
Come From Away tells the true story of the small town of Gander, Newfoundland, in the days following September 11th, 2001. Due to the US closing its airspace, this middle-of-nowhere on the edge of the world went from 9,000 residents to 16,000 overnight as no less than 38 planes were diverted to the Gander airport.
Because Newfoundland is the easternmost point in North America (so far east, it has its own time zone), the Gander airport was once a bustling hub for jets taking off across the Atlantic during World War Two. Following the war, it became a must-stop for commercial airlines to refuel before reaching their final destinations. Over time and with newer, more efficient airplanes, refueling slowly became a non-necessity, rendering the Gander airport nearly obsolete. Now it sits as a sort of time capsule and inspiration for a 2017 Tony-nominated Broadway musical.
The 7,000 people diverted to Newfoundland on 9/11 spent something like 28 hours on their planes, confused and without connection to loved ones or a hint of news. Remember, this was a time before cell phones were commonplace. As people had traveled from all corners of the world, there were language barriers aplenty - barriers that, at times, could only be broken by referencing an ancient common tongue: the bible.
The people of Gander opened their homes to these displaced people, emptying their store shelves, providing phones and clothing, and cooking casseroles and cod au gratin to feed thousands. Theirs is an incredible example of kindness, humility, and compassion.
Irene Sankoff and David Hein wrote the book, music, and lyrics for Come From Away based on hours of interviews with Gander locals. Hein has said that "every character that you see is inspired by a real interview or several interviews." Many characters are an amalgam of several people, but that doesn't make them any less real. Sankoff and Hein have achieved an immensely compelling piece of storytelling, one made whole through exuberant, heartfelt music and lyrics and seamless staging.
Come From Away has about a one-and-a-half-hour run-time, no intermission. The format works perfectly, never lagging or leaving one wondering what's next. There's fluidity from the simple set transitions - mainly the use of chairs and other common furniture on a rotating stage - to the way in which the cast of 18 plays both the Newfoundlanders and the visitors.
The only thing missing from this constantly-flowing staging is the chance to applaud. Save for the show-stopping jig, "Screech In," there's no other momentary pause for praise - even though Becky Gulsvig deserved some for her exquisitely-belted "Me and the Sky." Hopefully for the actors, the audience's easy laughs and rapt attention are some consolation; everyone in this touring company is deserving of praise.
So, do we need a 9/11 musical? Is that what people want? Based on the energy at the Marcus Center on opening night, the answer is a resounding yes, topped off with an immediate and well-earned standing ovation. If ever there was a way to shine a light on a national tragedy, doing so through a lens of hope is surely the ideal.
Though panic, sadness, and uncertainty are felt in Come From Away, there's very little all-out gloom. Rather, this is a story that celebrates the best of humanity and how, in a time of crisis, we have the capacity to come together as friends and neighbors above all else. One line in the show reflects on 9/11 with a simple truth: "So many stories gone just like that." Come From Away preserves one such story - a story that's uplifting and deeply worthy of its musical retelling.
Photo credit: Matthew Murphy