- OnStage Washington D.C. Critic
Let’s get three things straight right off the bat: This is not a 9/11 musical, this is a musical about what happens when a small town is doubled in size and must a find a way to support people from all over the globe until they can fly back home. This is one of the best new shows I’ve seen. The world is ready for this.
Come From Away, created by Irene Sankoff and David Hein, follows the town of Gander in the most northern tip of the continent as the town must rally to accommodate thousands and thousands of “Come From Away’s” that were forced to land there on September 11th . The show includes real events and stories from the town and the actual passengers. This show is funny. It’s not funny because of anything having to do with 9/11; it’s funny because of the unique characters and conflict/ differences between these extremely northern, Canadian townsfolk and the outside foreigners. 12 actors play just around 100 characters, with small clothing or prop changes marking the difference between them all.
The show starts the morning of September 11th as we see the town of Gander receive word of the horrific events in NYC/DC and the news that 38 planes are being grounded in their small town. The show then transitions back and forth between the people of the town preparing and the people on the planes, who weren’t allowed off the planes for as long as 28 hours as every jet was being treated as a bomb threat. Once the passengers leave the planes there is a mass panic of “what will happen now” and “how long will we be here”. Throughout the show we slowly see the passengers and the locals create a connection, but nobody can escape the anxiousness of what’s happening/ what happened. We hear stories from locals and passengers alike about what the town was like, what they did in the town, how kind the people were in the town, etc. Eventually the passengers leave Newfoundland and realize a piece of them will always be in Gander but also realize the world will never be the same now.
I could write a paragraph about every actor being excellent and unbelievably real but then people would stop reading and there’s much more to be said. I won’t give each cast member their own paragraph but I will give them all one large paragraph so strap in. Let’s begin with Rodney Hicks whose main character was Bob, a new Yorker, Rodney gave one of the best performances of the night as a funny man who is not used to the abrupt kindness of these northerners. Mr. King got the most laughs of the night but also got some of the most dramatic moments of the show, once he got back to NYC and realized “Something’s Missing”. Tony Nominee Chad Kimball also gave a standout performance as an openly gay man and a gander citizen trying to help. He got to be a real mouthpiece for what was happening on stage, giving several great monologues delivered directly to the audience. Geno Carr was the best character actor on stage; his main role was the Gander Sherriff who is all over the show, helping everyone he can with an excellent Canadian/Newfoundland accent. Q. Smith gave a heart wrenching and unbelievably real performance as a mother just longing to hear from her soon who was firefighter in NYC. Caesar Samayoa’s best role was Ali, a Muslim from Egypt who just wants to help but is turned down due to fear. He portrayed the most political part of the show with such subtlety and yet such frustration that the audience couldn’t help but think “let that man help!” Astrid Van Wieren, Sharon Wheatley, Kendra Kassebaum, Alyssa Wilmoth Keegan, Lee MacDougall, and Joel Hatch all gave outstanding performances as well, switching flawlessly between characters. Every one of them did an excellent job and the show wouldn’t have been as good without them. Now, if you follow my reviews you’ll know I pick a “star of the show” and this review is no different.
Even surrounded by such amazing talent and incredible performances, one actor stood out. Jenn Colella was a powerhouse on stage, having two main characters throughout the show. One being a younger Newfoundlander who makes sure everyone gets what they need, the other a strong pilot who is desperate to know when her crew and passengers can go home. Her moments were the best on stage and the audience knew it. She had the most devastating song in the whole piece, which is saying something. Don’t be surprised if this actress wins some serious hardware this theatre awards season.
The music and Dialogue by Sankoff and Hein was absolutely superb, giving us laughs and tears constantly throughout. The direction couldn’t have been any stronger; Tony Nominee Christopher Ashley outdid himself with this piece. There was some of the best movement throughout this piece that I’ve seen, not dancing per say, but strong movement that added immensely to the story. Great job to Tony Nominee Kelly Devine on that. Tony award winning Scenic designer Beowulf Boritt made a fantastic set. It’s all in one location and yet it’s everywhere. It’s set in a bar as people use the props from the bar to create every other setting needed for the piece, very well done indeed. The true Technical achievement in this show came from Tony Winner Howell Binkley (Hamilton) on lighting design. The lights were incredibly powerful and soft all at once, creating the mood for each scene flawlessly. Throw in Tony Nominees Gareth Owen for sound design and August Eriksmoen for Orchestrations and you’ve got a technical behemoth of a show. The band was also on stage throughout the show and even interacted with the actors during the bar scenes. Ian Eisendrath, Ben Power, Caitlin Warbelow, Alec Berlin, Nate Lueck, Mike Pearce, James Yoshizawa and Larry Lelli handled the folk/rock score outstandingly, not missing a beat.
I can’t really stress how important this show is to everyone. It’s important to have a show that discusses 9/11 without being filled with political bad mouthing and personal gain. It’s important to let people mourn over this event, even 15 years later. It’s important that our youth never forgets about this tragedy. Consider this, there are high school students now who weren’t alive during 9/11. Soon there will be teachers who can’t speak to it and then we’ll have parents who weren’t alive at all and eventually it will slip into the cracks of history, becoming just another flash card we study to ace the test. This preserves it for us all. If Lin-Manuel Miranda taught us anything it’s that we will flock to history if the melody is catchy and the story is good. Come From Away will do the same thing. Come From Away will not let any of us forget. Come From Away can succeed.
Come From Away is up at Ford’s Theatre till October 16th (http://www.fords.org/). Then it will head to Canada then it is scheduled to start on Broadway in March. Please, see this show. It will change you, it will stay with you for a very long time. It must be seen.
The last thing I’ll say about the show is this: I saw the show with my mother and we were both emotional wrecks, along with the rest of the audience. Once the show was over and the audience leapt to their feet, the women sitting next to my mother gave her a hug. They hadn’t ever spoken before that night and will probably never speak again. However in that moment they hugged each other. That’s what Come From Away does. It doesn’t offend, it doesn’t mock, it doesn’t condemn. It fills you with love. Love that is much needed these days.