Review: 'Come From Away' Well Worth a Gander

Joe Szekeres

OnStage Toronto Critic

I’m certain each of us can recall where we were during two pivotal historical events that forever altered North American society from the early 1960's to present day.  I was two years of age when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas; however, I can recall exactly where I was and what I was doing that warm September 11, 2001 morning when the Manhattan skyline was decimated as the Twin Towers in New York’s financial district came crashing down and over three thousand lives were lost.  

I was teaching a class at my school when a colleague came into the classroom and announced this news to all of us.  My initial reaction was one of annoyance as I wondered why this individual was interrupting the lesson.  That annoyance turned to confusion on all parts as the students and I were looking at this purveyor of information and trying to decipher what was being told to us.  The classroom went silent as the students looked to me, I looked at them and none of us knew what to say.  Then the array of other emotions followed over the next few hours, but one thing was clear- there was this enormous void of fear and emptiness in knowing that our world had changed not necessarily for the better.  Could any hope or goodness spring from this deep chasm?  The answer to this question is a resounding YES.

The newest musical COME FROM AWAY is now in performance at Toronto’s newly restored Royal Alexandra Theatre.  Irene Sankoff and David Hein have written a brilliant, poignant, sad, moving and, at times, amusing account of that time when 38 planes had been diverted to Gander, Newfoundland on September 11, 2001. 

According to 9/11 American Airlines pilot, Beverley Bass, “The people of Gander were just phenomenal to the more than 6,000 passengers who were waylaid for five days.  Gander citizens treated these passengers like family and brought them into their homes.”  Even as I write this, my eyes well up because I am reminded of what Anne Frank had written in her diary, “In spite of everything, I still believe people are good at heart.”  COME FROM AWAY is not about the sadness of 9/11, but about the goodness that came out of it.  This is a musical masterpiece that finds joy, friendship and compassion in the midst of all this sadness. You Tube it to see highlights of this production. 

At this time, tickets are scarce and premium seats are $275 from what I understand.  If you are going to see COME FROM AWAY, you are fortunate and lucky as you will be entertained but most importantly you are going to be moved on many levels.  The audience was on its feet immediately at the curtain call for these very talented and highly professional twelve performers who play a variety of roles throughout the 110-minute piece sans intermission. 

The set is a simple one of barn board wood along with chairs and tables that can be moved easily throughout each scene.  I noticed many moments where back lighting highlighted the action on stage in the creation of spectacular tableaux.  The ten-piece band rocks the stage with moments you would swear Great Big Sea was in the house.  At times, the music overpowers the singers, but the audience didn’t mind, as it is the joy of all on that stage that captivates our hearts. 

These professional actors have created such dazzling moments on stage, and space does not allow me to address each one.  I’ll only mention two:  The Screeching In party at the local pub is riveting for its choreography and the song itself.   Jenn Colella as pilot Beverley Bass brought all of us to tears in her solo of‘Me and The Sky’, especially in knowing that she made aviation history twenty years earlier as the first female captain for American Airlines.

If you don’t have tickets, tell your significant other and/or friend(s) that it will be time for a trip to the Big Apple to see this one.  This production has toured to other major American cities with rave reviews by audiences there.  And yet I have a concern.

 A few years ago, there was a marvellous production of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR at the Stratford Festival with a phenomenal reception by audiences.  Even Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber saw this production and gave it his blessing in its transfer to New York because he thought it would do well.  The New York critics gave it a tepid to lukewarm to maudlin reviews and the show closed quickly. I certainly hope this will not happen to COME FROM AWAY as this story needs to be told.  If anything, our world needs goodness, joy, compassion and hope right now.

COME FROM AWAY plays at Toronto’s Royal Alexandra Theatre until February 7 when it then transfers to New York City.  Visit for information. Photo: Matthew Murphy