Come from Away
Music, lyrics & book by Irene Sankoff and David Hein; directed by Christopher Ashley
Opened March 12, 2017
Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 West 45th Street
|The cast of Come from Away (photo: Matthew Murphy)|
What happened on September 11 still haunts New Yorkers. Now, more than 15 years later, comes the soothing tale of people in a small Canadian town becoming known around the globe in the days following the horrific terrorist attacks, musicalized as Come from Away.
When U.S. airspace was closed after the attacks, international flights already in the air and headed to the States had to be diverted, and dozens ended up landing at the large former airport near the town of Gander, where passengers and crew were sequestered for several days until they were able to resume their flights. By all accounts, despite fraying nerves on both sides—hundreds of newcomers, none of them able to contact their loved ones in a timely manner, and locals not used to an influx of so many visitors—those days went by remarkably smoothly, providing some good will during some very dark days.
It’s a fascinating and important story, but “Broadway musical” doesn’t scream out as the obvious way to tell it as much as a non-fiction book, movie dramatization or documentary. But Toronto-based creators Irene Sankoff and David Hein soldiered on, playing off the cliché that Canadians are so likable and nice by showing the locals interacting with the people from the planes—Americans, Europeans, Africans, even (in a few brief moments of tension) Middle Easterners—and interspersing those scenes with in-jokes about Tim Hortons, Shoppers Drug Mart and the local custom of kissing a codfish.
The show runs 100 intermission-less minutes, its interchangeable songs comprising lonely laments about absent loved ones and power ballads about understanding others despite differences, most rhythmically-heavy tunes with vague folk- or Celtic-based arrangements. Beowulf Boritt’s mostly bare set includes a revolving turntable that allows greater freedom of movement for the performers (Christopher Ashley is credited as director, with Kelly Devine given a “Musical Staging” credit).
The talented cast of 12 energetically plays dozens of characters, both locals and visitors. And Jenn Colella, always a gripping presence whenever she’s onstage, gets the best musical moments as she belts her way through the show’s most emotional tune, “Me and the Sky,” as an American Airlines pilot who mourns that planes have been turned into lethal weapons by terrorists.
The audience loved the performance I attended, laughing, crying, applauding and jumping immediately to its collective feet at the end. They didn’t mind being manipulated; on Broadway, Come from Away hits close to home, and succeeds despite its limitations.