BWW Review: COME FROM AWAY at Straz Center Tampa
Come From Away is a Canadian musical with book, music and lyrics by Irene Sankoff and David Hein. It opened on Broadway in 2017 and now has become the longest running Canadian musical in Broadway history. It was nominated for 7 Tony Awards and won Best Direction of a Musical for Christopher Ashley.
When the United States shut down its airspace after the 911 attacks on our soil, our Newfoundland Canadian neighbors in the towns of Gander, Glenwood, Lewisporte, Appleton, Gambo and Norris Arms welcomed "come from aways" into their communities, homes and hearts when 38 international aircrafts carrying 7000 passengers and 19 animals were diverted to Gander International Airport. Although this rugged, craggy island is known as "The Rock", due to its harsh and stark environment, that cannot be said about its cordial and gracious townsfolk and their selfless hospitality. Where usually 2 air traffic controllers work the towers, 14 showed up to help. This is a remarkable true story that brought out the best of people in the worst of times. It's a bittersweet yet heartwarming lesson from which we can learn, where strangers become family, humans unite as one people, and everyone celebrates each other's differences.
Get the tissues...
Imagine being one of the pilots, flight attendants or passengers who were initially not allowed to deplane when they landed in Canada. Imagine seeing all the other planes grounded. With limited knowledge of what was happening, it left everyone to deal with confusing information and conflicting reports about why they were suddenly grounded and forced to stay onboard for 28 hours. When allowed to deplane, travelers were transferred to various emergency shelters in several cities by bus drivers who called off their strike in order to volunteer to help out. It was only then that the crew and passengers were able to catch up on the news and watch replays of the attacks. They all desperately tried to contact their families all over the world while local citizens worked around the clock to prepare to help them as best they could. The townspeople donated clothing, stores donated food, toilet paper, pet supplies, and baby diapers. There was so much food they used the ice hockey rink as the "largest walk-in refrigerator in the world". The passengers and crew were a bit leery of the overly warmhearted hosts that immediately took action, but soon they began to trust the "islanders" and their truly gracious generosity. Gander and other surrounding towns opened up their homes regardless of their guests' race, creed, nationality or sexual orientation. Two mothers, Beulah (Julie Johnson) from Gander, and Hannah (Danielle K. Thomas) from New York, bonded because their sons were firefighters. Beulah was particularly supportive of Hannah as her son, an NYFD fireman was missing. When Hannah asked Beulah to take her to a Catholic church, other passengers made their way to places of worship throughout the town.
Amidst the tragedies surrounding them, one lighthearted scene at the local bar, was an invitation to become honorary Newfoundlanders. We get to know one of the pilots, Beverley Bass (Becky Gulsvig), the first female captain of an American Airlines aircraft who led the first all female crew in the history of commercial jet aviation. Perhaps it was the alcohol talking but one pair of passengers started a romance while another let go of their long-term relationship.
In the end, eventually US airspace is reopened and the passengers and crews fly back to their homes. They all had remarkable stories to tell of the unconditional kindness bestowed upon them by their new friends, the Newfoundlanders. Unfortunately a Muslim traveler facing increasing prejudice from his fellow passengers had to submit to a humiliating strip search prior to boarding. The townsfolk returned to their life prior to 911, but commented on how empty their town now seemed and how different the world felt. While en route to their homelands, passengers took up a donation amongst themselves, collecting $60,000 to send to their hosts in Newfoundland. Soon passengers and crew who returned to the US were then faced to deal with the horror of the attacks. Hannah learns that her firefighter son lost his life during rescue efforts and calls her new friend Beulah in Newfoundland for comfort.
In the finale, (10 years later), the "come from aways" of the once stranded planes return to Gander to celebrate the lifelong friendships that were made. Claude (Kevin Carolan) the mayor, proudly states, "Tonight we honor what was lost, but we also commemorate what we found." An Irish band played a foot stomping, hand clapping folk song that left us all feeling warmhearted. There was a thunderous round of applause and a standing ovation for the cast and musicians. Many in the cast played several characters. The thing I liked most about this production is that no one character upstaged any other. Their stories were the focus. They were all excellent. This cast kept the energy level high and respectfully toned when more dramatic scenes required some refinement. Those playing the townspeople displayed a balance compassion and humor in the sweetest way. Everyone's singing, dancing and acting abilities were put to the test and they all came from away to bring this brilliant staging to life.
Makes me want to throw back some Screech and kiss a fish.
(Don't know what that means? Well then, I guess you'll just have to see Come From Away!)
Come From Away runs through June 9, 2019 at the Straz Center in Tampa. For more information on the Straz and upcoming performances, visit www.strazcenter.org.
For more information on Come From Away visit, www.comefromaway.com.