BWW Review: COME FROM AWAY Is As Heartfelt And Timely As Ever Before
Following a transfer to the Elgin Theatre that lasted most of 2019, COME FROM AWAY has returned to its original Toronto home, the Royal Alexandra Theatre, in full form. Under director Christopher Ashley, writers and composers' Irene Sankoff and David Hein story of what happened in the town of Gander, Newfoundland, in the days following 9/11 maintains all the charm that it held before moving.
Based on true events and real people, the 100-minute production explores what happened in the town after 38 planes holding more than 7,000 passengers and flight crews were grounded unexpectedly. With a small-but-mighty ensemble, actors pull double-duty and often rotate between townspeople, plane-people, and nameless extras to show how a community doubled in size overnight.
The musical follows a few specific characters with stories sometimes connected, and sometimes given space to exist in their own narratives. Hannah (Saccha Dennis), the mother of a New York firefighter who hasn't been accounted for finds a friend in Beulah (Lisa Horner), a staff member at Gander's elementary school. Partners Kevin J. (Ali Moren) and Kevin T. (Jeff Madden) find their relationship strained after the traumatic event, with Moren doubling as an Egyptian man who deals with the brunt of the stranded passengers' frustrations and unfounded, racist fears. Diane (Barbara Fulton) meets businessman Nick (James Kall) on the plane and the two find themselves falling in love in less-than-ideal circumstances. Pilot Beverley (Eliza-Jane Scott) must cope with a world where her love for flying has been corrupted by a horrific event.
And that's just the people on the plane - the people of Gander all have their own issues to deal with while playing host to thousands of passengers from around the world. What ties all of these characters and plotlines together is a score with roots in maritime-folk music, performed vibrantly by the onstage (albeit off to the side) band led by music director Bob Foster. In the triumphant mid-show "Screech In" everything from a fiddle to an ugly stick gets the chance to shine, and it's one of the only moments in the show that pauses long enough for applause - another smart decision in the writing, as the constant motion keeps you engaged in the story and ultimately more emotionally invested.
Every member of this cast shines in each of their roles. Scott's take on the now-iconic "Me And The Sky" speaks to the struggles of women in male-dominated fields. Bonnie (Kristen Peace) is hilarious as the SPCA worker willing to take on the RCMP to check on the animals on the planes, and anxious Bob (Kevin Vidal) from New Jersey makes the most of the great circumstantial humour he's thrust into. The new reporter in town Janice (Steffi DiDomenicantonio) shows the struggle journalists face in times of tragedy and loss, and there's a comfort in Horner's no-nonsense maternal take on Beulah - I've got family from out east and could hear and see them clearly in her performance. Both mayor Claude (George Masswohl) and police officer Oz (Cory O'Brien) balance out the severity of their responsibilities with the good humour eastern Canadians are known for.
Simple scenic design (Beowulf Boritt) ensures that the people are the main focus, although a few ingenious additions make unseen locations obvious. Lighting (Howell Binkley) and costumes (Toni-Leslie James) are equally straightforward but work perfectly for a story of real people.
There might not have been any changes made to COME FROM AWAY since it was last in the Royal Alexandra, but it doesn't need them to remain relevant. Although centred on a specific moment in time, it's a story of human strength, the power of community, and an important dialogue on religion and race and how they're often used as unfair judges of character - which is unfortunately still relevant, perhaps now more than it has been in the almost 20 years since September 11, 2001. It's hard to not feel as welcomed into this story as the plane-people were to Gander, and in a world that focuses so much on what divides us, seeing a story about what connects people - no matter their differences - is as welcoming as a candle in the window and a kettle on.
Mirvish's COME FROM AWAY runs through May 31 at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, 260 King Street West, Toronto, ON.
For more information or to purchase tickets, visit https://www.mirvish.com/shows/come-from-away
Photo credit: Cylla von Tiedemann
This article has been edited to correct the production's run date.