Joe Szekeres, Chief Toronto Critic
‘Come From Away’ is billed as the remarkable true story, and that it most certainly is. What made this story remarkable for me when I first saw it was its’ belief in the triumphant and restoring human spirit of kindness and compassion of the people in Gander, Newfoundland, to the stranded passengers on thirty-eight planes on September 11, 2001. The spirit of goodwill, kindness and compassion still transcends throughout the entire Canadian production.
Is it still remarkable? Yes. Did it bring a tear to my eye? Yes. Is it a story that needs to be seen again? Yes, especially given the tempestuous times in which we now find ourselves worldwide. ‘Come From Away’ continues to touch deep to the very core of who we are as human beings and what we can do under the most horrifying and terrifying of circumstances.
The pacing of the show appeared to be tighter from when I had seen it last and not rushed at all. Because the story touches my heart, I’m still amazed how I buy into the creation of various locales of a Tim Hortons, an airplane, a pub with ordinary looking tables and chairs. The top-notch band led by Bob Foster is in fine form and the “Screech In” of the passengers was great fun to watch. I was screeched in when I visited Newfoundland a few years ago, and what a party it was. Magically, this same feeling was re-created for me once again when I saw the show.
Twelve solid Canadian actors under Tony award winning Christopher Ashley’s keen direction play at least one memorable role plus a sundry of other characters. For me, they all became believable people whom I would want to get to know. One slight quibble I did have was the incorporation of the Newfoundland dialect (or way of speaking if you like). Overall, it rang true to my ear, but there were moments from some of the performers where I felt the dialect was a tad bit forced and I was brought out of the moment.
Saccha Dennis’ performance as Hannah (a mother whose firefighter son was missing at Ground Zero) was heartfeltly tragic and riveting especially in her ‘I Am Here’ addressed to her son. Barbara Fulton and James Kall are poignantly tender as Nick and Diane who met and connected with each other under the most horrific circumstances. As no nonsense, take charge, down to earth school teacher Beulah, Lisa Horner’s compassionate performance in her warming up to Hannah and her missing firefighter son was moving. Cory O’Brien as humourous and sometimes dim-wittedly sharp officer Oz provided some needed smiles. For me, Mr. O’Brien’s vocals as a rabbi in ‘Prayer’ brought tears to my eyes.
Steffi Didomenicantonio is a wide eyed, keen and optimistic television reporter Janice Mosher who learns a great deal about human nature. Kristen Peace’s performance as SPCA worker Bonnie was beautifully down to earth and matter of fact when it came to the animals on board the planes. Jeff Madden as Kevin was warmly moving as his relationship with his boyfriend, another Kevin (Ali Momen) began to disintegrate. I especially liked Mr. Momen’s performance as Ali. From my seat in the house, I could see the hurt, the fear and the anger in his eyes as the ‘one who was constantly being watched’.
George Masswohl’s performance as gruff Gander mayor Claude uniquely becomes one of the rocks of support in the town. His moment at the end of the play when he tells us what happens to him when he gets home is haunting. I don’t want to spoil Kevin Vidal’s moment involving the gathering of barbeques for a cookout, but his telling of what happened again brought much needed laughter.
As Captain Beverley Bass, the first female pilot who flew for American Airlines, Eliza-Jane Scott captured the assertiveness needed to ensure her passengers would be safe at all costs. Her telephone conversations with her unseen husband Tom certainly touched heartstrings once again. Ms. Scott’s eleven o’clock number (Me and The Sky) bravely took me on a journey in learning the challenges sometimes facing a woman to enter a man’s line of work. It was a good moment, but I felt it really didn’t have the emotionally heightened zenith needed that Jenn Colella has when she played the role in Toronto.
Final Comments: A justly deserved standing ovation for this company. I finally had a chance to hear writers Irene Sankoff and her husband, David Hein, address the crowd and praise this Canadian company. Yes, there were Toronto and Canadian celebrities who attended the production (Gordon Lightfoot was spotted); however, what made this production even more extraordinary for me was the introduction of the actual individuals portrayed in the show and their invitation to the stage so the audience could see them. If anything, this moment hit home as these ‘come from aways’ to Ontario reminded me that kindness, goodness, compassion and love exist in all humans.
‘Come From Away’ is slated to perform until end of June, 2019 (but I have a feeling the show will probably be extended). Tickets are available at www.mirvish.com or 1-416-872-1212. Check the website or call the box office for show times. All performances will take place at the Elgin Theatre, 189 Yonge Street.
Performers: Saccha Dennis, Steffi Didomenicantonio, Barbara Fulton, Lisa Horner, James Kall, Jeff Madden, George Masswohl, Ali Momen, Cory O’Brien, Kristen Peace, Eliza-Jane Scott, Kevin Vidal
Note: Sunday February 10 matinee performance marked the media review of the Canadian company in their new residency digs at Toronto’s Yonge Street Elgin Theatre. I had seen this company perform at Toronto’s Royal Alexandra Theatre last year (and from what I can see there has been one cast member change). I have also seen the current New York production last year as well (which had a residency in Toronto a couple of years back).
Running Time: 100 minutes with no intermission.
Director: Christopher Ashley; Music Director: Bob Foster; Music Supervision: Ian Eisendrath; Musical Staging: Kelly Devine; Scenic Design: Beowulf Boritt; Costume Design: Toni-Leslie James; Lighting Design: Howell Binkley; Sound Design: Gareth Owen;
Photo of the original 2018 Canadian company of ‘Come From Away’ taken by Matthew Murphy.