Come From Away shines a light on the heart-warming and uplifting story of kindness told through the moving soundtrack by Irene Sankoff and David Hein that is crafted into a captivating 100 minutes of storytelling.
The day of the 9/11 terror attacks the US airspace closed, and 38 planes were rerouted to a tiny town called Gander in Newfoundland, Canada. That day the town’s population more than doubled and Come From Away tells the story of how the people of Newfoundland put their own lives on hold to welcome in the frightened 6,700 people from the planes and make them feel at home.The focus of the musical isn’t on the terror attacks but the sheer kindness of the Canadian residents as it tells the true stories of these people’s lives.
This production is the finest piece of acting in musical theatre I’ve ever seen. The way the actors manage to get to the root of each character and portray an abundance of emotions so genuinely is exceptional. Director Christopher Ashley and his musical staging director Kelly Devine have steered the ensemble of 12 actors to switch between multiple characters so swiftly and seamlessly. It’s refreshing to see such a diversity of age, race, shape and size for a group of actors. Making the production feel entirely real as you are sucked right into the heart of the story.
Julie Reiber stepped in as understudy to play American Airlines pilot Beverley Bass, the first female pilot in the USA whose flight is diverted to Newfoundland after the terror attack on the morning of September 11th. Her story is beautiful as she talks about how she fell in love with flying and cares so deeply for her plane. Her huge solo number Me and the Sky is empowering and emotional, and her vocals are faultless as she belts out the number passionately.
Q. Smith plays Hannah whose son is a firefighter back in New York. Constantly ringing him and his rescue team, she desperately attempts to find out if he is okay. Her story is one of the most poignant to watch as she is the only character in the show directly connected to the 9/11 attack. Feeling far away and stuck in her number I Am Here, her helplessness and worry seeps through her voice and is immensely heart-breaking. Other stand-out performances include Joel Hatch as the witty Claude, De’Jon Grant as the sincere young Bob and Astrid Van Wieren as the kind-hearted motherly figure Beulah.
It’s a story about acceptance and prejudice, whether it’s the trendy gay couple that are hesitant to form a connection with the people of Newfoundland or the Muslim man that instantly becomes a target for alienation when the passengers from the plane are tentative to trust him. As an audience, we see these prejudices from a well-rounded perspective, and it’s a story that speaks loudly about opening your heart and your mind.
I don’t know if being in New York made it so much more potent, but the stories of these people that landed in Newfoundland, scared and alone touched me deeper than any show I’ve seen on stage before. What makes it so compelling is that it is wholly true, and once you’ve witnessed this masterpiece on stage you will find yourself delving deeply into the stories of these real people and investing in their lives. Whether it’s the marriage of Texan lady Diane and Nick from England who meet on board their flight and have instant chemistry, or animal lover Bonnie who fights the urge to sleep in order to look after the animals on the plane, the authenticity of the show makes it so powerful.
Come From Away is a heartfelt story about how can selfless compassion, kindness and understanding can spur from isolation and fear. It is a show that has left a mark on my heart that will stay with me forever.
On at the Schoenfeld Theatre in New York, information can be found here.