Review: COME FROM AWAY at Ottawa's National Arts Centre

The musical beautifully captures the generosity of spirit that held the plane people together while the world seemed to fall apart.

By: Dec. 28, 2022
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Review: COME FROM AWAY at Ottawa's National Arts Centre
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Come From Away
The North American Tour of Come From Away.
Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy.

Broadway Across Canada's presentation of Come From Away landed last night at the National Art's Centre's Southam Hall. A truly Canadian musical, Come From Away tells the story of the "plane people" who were unexpectedly stranded in Gander, Newfoundland, as worldwide air travel was suspended in the immediate aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. At the same time, Come From Away shares the story of the residents of Gander and its surrounding towns, as they scrambled to provide food, shelter, and empathy to the plane people amid the fear and uncertainty that surrounded them. On Broadway, Come From Away was nominated for seven Tony awards, and has been considered a must-see show in New York, London, and Toronto. It is hard to fathom how such a dark subject matter can result in a heartwarming musical, but David Hein and Irene Sankoff (book, music, and lyrics) beautifully capture the generosity of spirit that held the plane people together while the world seemed to fall apart.

In 2001, Gander was a small town with about 7,000 residents, making it the unlikely recipient for an influx of marooned passengers that nearly doubled its population. Gander possessed a huge airport that had previously served as a refuelling station for planes making Transatlantic flights. Since modern planes no longer needed to refuel mid-flight, Gander's airport was intended to be torn down but - fortunately for the plane people - no one had gotten around to it.

As Gander's residents begin their daily routines at the local Tim Hortons, they find themselves learning about the terrorist attacks that occurred on 9/11 and are informed that U.S. inbound flights from Europe are about to be grounded at their airport because the Federal Aviation Administration had shut down U.S. airspace. Residents are quickly called to action by the mayor, Claude (Kevin Carolan), and everyone chips in to gather essentials for the passengers.

Come From Away
The North American Tour of Come From Away.
Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy.

When the plane people eventually disembark, they are told what has transpired, and their emotions run rampant. Hannah (Phyre Hawkins) has a son who is a firefighter in New York City and is agonized not knowing if he is okay. A couple, both named Kevin (Amir Haidar and Jeremy Woodard), find their relationship tested by this unexpected detour. Diane (Christine Toy Johnson) and Nick (James Kall) find comfort in each one another and a romance seems to kindle, but they live on different continents. Bonnie (Kristen Peace), a Gander resident, and volunteer at the local SPCA, is determined to find and care for any animals that may have been forgotten in the cargo hold. It's a hell of a first day at the station for Janice (Julia Knitel), a local Rogers TV newscaster, and she isn't so sure that she's cut out for the job. Captain Beverley Bass (Marika Aubrey) reflects on the struggles she underwent to land her dream job as the first female American Airlines' pilot, only to face the knowledge that her industry has been forever changed. Ali (Amir Haidar) is an Egyptian national who, like everyone else, is yearning to return home to his family, but has the added burden of dealing with racism and distrust in the wake of 9/11. The passengers and residents of the show are based on real people and the stories told are their actual stories or a composite of true stories. Knowing this going into the show makes the audience even more emotionally invested in the characters and their outcomes.

Come From Away
The North American Tour of Come From Away.
Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy.

Performances were amazing all around and the cast perform so well together that it is hard to single any one individual out. About one third of the cast are holdovers from the first North American tour and they have perfected their performances. Each cast member plays multiple characters, signalled through simple costume changes, such as an added hat or sweater and the scenes are quickly morphed using wooden chairs, cleverly incorporated into the choreography (Kelly Devine). Even though this sounds like it may be confusing to keep track of, it is done so seamlessly that it never is. The show is relatively short at an hour and forty minutes, with no intermission. The twelve-person cast is on stage for virtually the entire time and, since it is non-stop action, the actors must be utterly exhausted by the curtain call. The crowd burst into applause and was instantly on their feet, clapping along with the ditty provided by the band (directed by Cameron Moncur) as a mini encore. Unsurprisingly, comments overheard from the audience immediately after the show ranged from, "It was wonderful!" and "I loved it!" to "I want to see it again!".

Broadway Across Canada's presentation of Come From Away is only grounded at the National Arts Centre through January 8th, so click here to get your boarding passes!




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