I had the good fortune to see the smash-hit musical “Come from Away” on Broadway in NYC in late November, so I was doubly blessed to see it again with the North American tour presented by Broadway in Indianapolis on opening night January 21 at Clowes Memorial Hall. Typically, I try to publish reviews as close to show openings as possible, but in this case, I had the luxury of taking my time to absorb the show again. Tickets for the touring show were very limited, so there wasn’t any pressure to publish quickly.
The Tony Award-winning “Come from Away” premiered on Broadway at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre in 2017 and the critically acclaimed, box-office success continues to play for standing-room audiences. Originating in Canada, the musical’s book, music and lyrics are by Irene Sankoff and David Hein. Set in the week that followed the 9/11 attacks in 2001, the musical tells the true story of what happened when 38 planes were ordered by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), as part of Operation Yellow Ribbon, to divert to Canada. They landed unexpectedly in the small town of Gander, in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. The characters in the musical are based (and in most cases bear the names of) real Gander residents, as well as some of the 7,000 stranded travelers, affectionately dubbed “The Plane People,” whom the townspeople hosted.
As far as the touring production that graced our city, I can state categorically the cast that played Clowes is every bit as talented as their counterparts I saw in New York. Like the Broadway cast, this 12-member group of extraordinary singer-actor-dancers entertained for a solid 90-minutes as the show doesn’t have an intermission. For them to sustain their energy for that long was simply phenomenal. And on top of that, most cast members played multiple roles as both Ganderites and plane people.
Utilizing mismatched chairs as props, they recreated scenes on planes, both on the ground and in the air, and various locations in Gander, such as shelters, a bar and town hall. On such a minimal set, the actors brought the story to life in the most vivid ways possible. So much so, that one could not help but be drawn into the uplifting story about the kindness of strangers during one of this most traumatic periods of human history. And then there was Sankoff”s and Hein’s music, with its English, Irish, Scottish and French folk influences, that speaks to the history of Newfoundland. Add to that the creators’ catchy and clever lyrics, played by an onstage band comprised of eight remarkable musicians; it was a recipe for a theatrical juggernaut.
I found myself weeping during much of the show. Though I was moved when I saw the show two months ago, my emotions were not as raw as they were this time around. It’s because the day after seeing the Broadway production, I visited the 9/11 Memorial in Lower Manhattan. Memories of the overwhelming sadness I felt that day from seeing so much of the attack’s physical evidence and the loss of life represented there were still fresh in my consciousness. And yet, seeing the show again, helped to counteract that highly emotional experience and remind me that despite the incomprehensible horror that took place on that fateful, human kindness does exist and love will always prevail over hate. I believe one of the biggest reasons that “Come from Away” resonates and is so beloved is because of its reinforcement of the simple golden rule, “Do unto others you would have them do unto you,” a prescription we all need, now, more than ever.