Broadway Review: Feel-Good Musical ‘Come From Away’

Come From Away review
Matthew Murphy

Here’s that feel-good show that audiences constantly pine for. “Come from Away” is a modest, earnest, life-affirming musical by Irene Sankoff and David Hein that makes people think the human race might not be doomed, after all. Based on true events, the show celebrates the generosity of a small Canadian town that welcomed some 7,000 stranded passengers from airplanes diverted in the air and grounded in the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001.

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In a flash of fate, residents of the tiny town of Gander, Newfoundland, find themselves hosting passengers from 38 planes diverted from American airspace to their airport. This unexpected doubling of the population presents extraordinary challenges for the locals.  Never mind finding food, warm clothing, and lodging for the shell-shocked travelers, who’s going to rustle up toilet paper and diapers?

“Welcome to the Rock,” the most spirited of the sound-alike-and-run-together songs in the conversational musical score, comes perilously close to being a parody of the universal Canadian character, with its overdone accents (coached by Joel Goldes), plain-as-plain-can-be apparel (as envisioned by costumer Toni-Leslie James), and galumphing musical staging (by Kelly Devine). But the 16-member cast is a hearty group and so good-natured they really put the lyrics across.

“Welcome to the Rock!” is the jolly refrain as the islanders introduce their visitors to the harsh land with “the wildest weather that you’ve ever heard of” …. “the land where the winters tried to kill us” …. “the land where the waters tried to drown us” … “the land where we lost our loved ones.”  But through it all, the rock where people cling to their lives and refuse to die.

Subsequent songs conversationally define exactly what’s going on in this godforsaken place. “38 Planes” passes on the bad news to disbelieving crews of Lufthansa, Air India, Sabena, Delta, Air Lingus, Air New Zealand and the rest of the lost fleet. In “28 Hours / Wherever We Are,” passengers of one emblematic American Airlines plane describe their ordeal and their sense of dislocation. “Blankets and Bedding” is a coming-and-going number in which folks hustle up supplies and extend their glad hands to guests.

Director Christopher Ashley (artistic director of La Jolla Playhouse) keeps the traffic moving smartly on Beowulf Boritt’s rustic set, using little more than a revolve and about a dozen kitchen chairs for props. But there’s no getting away from it — as broad representatives from both camps of hosts and guests, the characters have no character. That is, not until the songs are entrusted to specific individuals.

“I Am Here” is the lament of Hannah (Q. Smith), an American mother who can’t reach her firefighter son on the phone. “Stop the World” is the love song of two lonely passengers who find each other. And “Me and the Sky” is the spirited anthem of Beverley, the gutsy female AA pilot played by the gutsy Jenn Colella.

By the end of the show, the characters are scarcely more defined than they were at the beginning, and the monotonous music (juiced up by a nifty eight-piece band playing interesting instruments) may be pounding on your head. But the intentions of the show are so heartfelt — and so warmly received by the audience at one late preview — that you can sense the connections with the show being felt in the house, row by row.

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Broadway Review: Feel-Good Musical 'Come From Away'

The Gerald Schoenfeld Theater; 1046 seats; $157 top. Opened March 12, 2017. Reviewed March 9. Running time: ONE HOUR, 40 MIN.

Production

A presentation by Junkyard Dog Productions, Jerry Frankel, Latitude Link, Smith & Brant Theatricals, Steve & Paula Reynolds, David Mirvish, Michael Rubinoff, Alhadeff Productions, Michael Alden & Nancy Nagel Gibbs, Sam Levy, Rodney Rigby, Spencer Ross, Richard Winkler, Yonge Street Theatricals, Sheridan College, Michael & Ellise Coit, Ronald Frankel, Sheri & Les Biller, Richard & Sherry Belkin, Gary & Marlene Cohen, Allan Detsky & Rena Mendelson, Lauren Doll, Barbara H. Freitag, Wendy Gillespie, Laura Little Theatricals, Carl & Jennifer Pasbjerg, Radio Mouse Entertainment, The Shubert Organization, Cynthia Stroum, Tulchin Bartner Productions, Gwen Arment / Molly Morris & Terry McNicholas, Maureen & Joel Benoliel / Marjorie & Ron Danz, Pamela Cooper / Corey Brunish, Demos Bizar / Square 1 Theatrics, Joshua Goodman / Lauren Stevens, Just for Laughs Theatricals / Judith Ann Abrams Productions, Bill & Linda Potter / Rosemary & Kenneth Willman, and La Jolla Playhouse and Seattle Repertory Theater of a musical in one act with book, music & lyrics by Irene Sankoff and David Hein.

Creative

Directed by Christopher Ashley. Musical staging, Kelly Devine. Music supervision, Ian Eisendrath.  Sets, Beowulf Boritt; costumes, Toni-Leslie James; lighting, Howell Binkley; sound, Gareth Owen; orchestrations, August Eriksmoen; arrangements, Ian Eisendrath; dialect coach, Joel Goldes; production stage manager, Arturo E. Porazzi.

Cast

Petina Bromley, Geno Carr, Jenn Colella, Joel Hatch, Rodney Hicks, Kendra Kassebaum, Chad Kimball, Lee MacDougall, Caesar Samayoa, Q. Smith, Astrid Van Wieren, Sharon Wheatley, Josh Breckenridge, Susan Dunstan, Tamika Lawrence, Tony LePage

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  1. That show sucked! I hated it.

  2. cslevin59 says:

    I saw this Saturday and along with the rest of the audience, loved the lively score, wonderful ensemble cast, nimble storytelling and the reminder of a generous people, so different from the selfish cruelty that seems to have taken over our country, especially since January 20th. Our audience gave this show a well-deserved and lengthy standing ovation.

  3. Trudy Button says:

    “Characters have no character”? “Interesting instruments”? Ms. Stasio needs to book a trip to Newfoundland to see the place, and its hospitality, firsthand.

  4. Ken Kwartler says:

    I saw this show a week before it opened. It is beautifully conceived, written and performed, and quite a bit more unique than the review indicates. Sankoff & Hein have woven together brief and sustained experiences of literally dozens of different individuals over 5 impactful days in a remarkable tapestry that addresses 9/11 from its periphery – probably the only safe and/or effective place for a musical to approach an enormous tragedy (as, for example, Sound of Music, South Pacific & Cabaret each did with WWII). The music is in total service of the plot, with few standalone songs, but a vibrant and varied score with many high points. A gifted troupe of performers each convincingly and endearingly tackle multiple roles. This isn’t a standard Broadway musical as much as a long form work of journalism, but its sensitivity to human nature, resilience and frailty is deeply inspiring. Several numbers drew hollers of crowd approval and delight, and I can’t recall seeing an entire house rise in a standing ovation when the final note was played. This is the most moving show that Broadway has seen in a long while, and deserves serious Tony consideration in a host of categories – not to mention a very long run on 45th St. and beyond.

  5. David Keegan says:

    As a Newfoundlander myself (from the capital city of St. John’s who later practice medicine north of Gander where this musical is set), I can assure you and your readers that the accents are not “overdone”. Even though I am from the “Rock” myself, it took a while for me to understand some of the accents in the region. And one region’s accents are different from another. I have yet to see the play in person, but have looked at some of the promo videos and the director is to be congratulated for having helped his actors develop as close-to-true a Newfoundland accent which is still easily understood by a non-resident (or Come-From-Away); if anything, the accents are under-done. Patrina Bromley, being a Newfoundlander herself, has the accent down just right. At the time of 9/11, I was training in Ontario; I was proud to hear then and since of the openness those in Gander and surrounding areas demonstrated in welcoming the stranded and doing what they could to make things better. As a Newfoundlander (now in Alberta), thank you for taking the time to review Come From Away.

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