BWW Review: COME FROM AWAY at the National Arts Centre - Southam Hall
Come From Away, the most anticipated show of Broadway Across Canada's 2018-2019 season, is based on the real life events that occurred when the United States closed its airspace in the aftermath of September 11, 2001.
Planes were instructed to land in Gander, Newfoundland, a tiny town with an airport that previously served as a refueling station before jet engines allowed for Transatlantic flights. In all, 38 planes carrying about 7,000 passengers and crew descended on Gander, instantly almost doubling its population.
The story is told from both sides, highlighting the kindness of the Islanders, who welcome strangers into their homes, as well as the fear and anxiety of the so-called Plane People as they gradually learn, and then struggle to understand, what has happened.
There is Beulah (Julie Johnson), who takes over like a mother hen, arranging food, shelter and showers and becomes a friend to Hannah (Danielle K. Thomas), as the latter desperately tries to get some news about her son, a New York City firefighter. There is Bonnie (Megan McGinnis), who works with the local SPCA and worries about the health and well-being of the pets still on board the grounded planes. There are the mayor (Kevin Carolan) and the striking bus drivers, led by Garth (Andrew Samonsky), who agree to temporarily set aside their differences so they can shuttle the passengers between Gander and the other communities that have offered shelter. There are the two Kevins (Nick Duckart and Andrew Samonsky), a couple who are wary about how their relationship will be perceived outside of a large metropolis. Then there is Ali (Nick Duckart), an Egyptian passenger, who is suddenly regarded with suspicion and fear. On top of all this, as we witness one couple's relationship blossoming out of the darkness, we see another one deteriorate under the stress.
Remarkably, these are individual true stories that allow the audience to share some of what they experienced as the world changed in the days after 9/11.
I have never before seen a show where the cast is on stage for almost the entire time. Every cast member plays multiple characters and the simple, effortless movement of mismatched chairs allows the scene to shift from the local Tim Horton's, to a plane cabin, to the Royal Canadian Legion. Although it happens often and quickly, incredibly, it is never confusing.
The music is a folk-rock hybrid, using instruments such as fiddles, accordions and pennywhistles. Most songs are performed by multiple cast members, with the notable exception of "Me and the Sky", performed by Beverley (Becky Gulsvig) as she reflects on her accomplishments as American Airlines' first female captain and her realization that air travel will never be the same again. The opening song, "Welcome to the Rock" is a rousing number that gives some background on the Islanders and sets the tone for the whole show. "Prayer" is a moving, powerful number with lyrics that combine prayers from various religions to show that people of different faiths can pray together for the same things.
The story is best explained by Gander's mayor, Claude, "[t]onight, we honor what was lost. But we also commemorate what we found!"
The cast has an energy that is palpable and enhanced through the music. No one character is more important than another and to reinforce this, the entire cast appeared together at the curtain call to a well-deserved standing ovation.
Ultimately, the lesson is that any act of kindness, no matter how small, can change someone's life forever and help them get through even the darkest of times. This inspiring production is highly recommended; it is one of the best touring productions I have seen in a very long time, if not ever.
Come From Away is 90 minutes long with no intermission and is playing at the National Arts Centre's Southam Hall through September 8, 2019. For more information or to purchase tickets, go to www.BroadwayAcrossCanada.ca
Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy