BWW Review: COME FROM AWAY at Majestic Theatre
September 11, 2001 was a day that will never be forgotten. It was a day where the world stood in disbelief with feelings of fear, despair, outrage, and helplessness. Many people were in their homes. Many were on the way to work or already working. Many were in airplanes flying all over the world. The airplanes flying in the United States of America were ordered to land in nearby airports. One of them was the Gander Airport where a total of 38 planes and almost 7,000 people were stranded. The City of Gander had a population of about 10,000 people at the time, yet, without hesitation, they opened their city and their homes to the stranded passengers. COME FROM AWAY is the true story of how the people all came together when it felt like the world was coming apart.
As the story opens up, it's a seemingly typical day in Gander. Soon, the world is turned upside down. When planes were ordered to land at Gander Airport that day, the passengers knew nothing about Gander or even where it was. But, as told so well in COME FROM AWAY, everyone worked to make the passengers feel like they belonged and were not alone. The show's book, music and lyrics were written by Irene Sankoff and David Hein. The Canadian couple knew the story needed to be shared and as a result, audiences everywhere feel the unity yet uncertainty that prevailed in many during the days following the New York and Washington, DC attacks.
Looking at the stage of COME FROM AWAY, there was a simplistic looking stage designed by Beowulf Boritt with many moving parts that kept up with the action of the show that incorporated lighting designed by Howell Binkley. There were only 12 actors playing the parts of multiple people and it all worked so well. Slipping from one character to another was nearly unnoticeable to the audience as the actors took off a coat, a hat, or an apron. There may have been an accent that changed or a way of walking that signaled a different character. Characters varied from Gander residents, to airplane people, and in doing all of this, the cast made it seem like there were actually many more people onstage. This manner of portraying multiple characters didn't interfere with the stories being told or the raw emotion that permeated throughout the entire performance.
All the actors were exceptionally talented and full of surprises. The professional chemistry was evident. The part of Pilot Beverley among other characters was that of Marika Aubrey. Aubrey had the audience cheering and encouraging her during "Me and the Sky" as she shared the (true) story of women becoming pilots and the many obstacles and prejudices they had to overcome.
The part of Hannah among other characters was played by Danielle Thomas. The talent she showed as she went from playing Hannah to that of a Gander resident was seamless. But, when Thomas belted out "I am Here" with the anguish of a mother worried for the welfare of her son, you could hear a pin drop in the historic Majestic Theatre. There was raw ache that came across with every note. It led to the cast singing, "Prayer" that showed the diversity of those who were stranded in Gander. It showed how united the cast was and how they all shared the chemistry of each member, but it also showed how unified the almost 7,000 passengers were. As a time of fear and uncertainty, those stranded in Gander felt comfort from the residents of Gander.
Among the cast members, songs like "28 Hours/Wherever we Are" and "Darkness and Trees" gave the audience a glimpse of the as the airplane passengers. Songs like "38 Planes" and "Blankets and Bedding" showed how the citizens of Gander were overwhelmed but willing to do whatever it took to make the stranded feel welcomed and comforted. It also showed how quickly the actors were able to switch from one character to another to continue to share the story from September 2001.
COME FROM AWAY will make you remember what you were doing, where you were living, and how you felt in September 2001. It will make you understand the unity that was felt among many in the world. But, mostly, it will show you how the small town in Newfoundland in Canada wanted to help. Don't miss it. It will continue its run in San Antonio at the Majestic Theatre through March 1, 2020. Go to the Majestic Theatre's website.
PHOTO CREDIT: Matthew Murphy