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Review: 'Come From Away'

"Come From Away" ensemble (Photo by Matthew Murphy/PR)

"Come From Away" ensemble (Photo by Matthew Murphy/PR)

by

At a time when America is increasingly nationalistic and unwelcoming to strangers, the new musical, Come From Away, now at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, reminds us of the generosity of our neighbors to the north.  It commemorates what happened on September 11, 2001, when dozens of planes, prevented from landing in the U.S., were diverted to Gander, Newfoundland. Suddenly this the small, remote city of 9,000 was faced with 7,000 unexpected guests, who had only a vague idea about what had happened and just wanted to get home.

The story of how they opened their community centers, homes, and hearts makes for a show that’s both moving and exhilarating. A versatile, multicultural cast of 12 men and women of all ages and sizes portrays both the passengers and the townspeople, seamlessly switching from one to the other, singing with strong voices and moving with precision.

The book, music, and lyrics are by Irene Sankoff and David Hein, a married Canadian writing team, who conducted hundreds of interviews to create composite characters. The energetic score, which blends rock and Celtic influences, flows continuously, with songs punctuated by crisp dialogue.

As the different cultures confront each other, there are areas of tension, giving rise to lots of humorous comments. But as one day leads into another with their flights being delayed, the passengers and townspeople begin to form bonds. So, too, by the end of the 100-minute play (with no intermission) do we come to know the many characters as individuals.

In some ways Come From Away reminded me of Once and Bright Star, two other feel-good shows with acoustic musicians onstage. But where those centered on the stories of the leads, here the ensemble is truly the star. Credit director Christopher Ashley with creating an organic, yet thoroughly professional feeling. In contrast with the lush, over the top show biz of Sunset Boulevard, it was downright refreshing.

The standing ovation at the end wasn’t just for the production; it was an affirmation of the community that our better selves can achieve. Don’t we need that more than ever now?