Review: “Come from Away” is a powerful reminder of the best in humanity

I’m excited to present my first blog-exclusive review of a national touring production, “Come from Away”  (playing at Bass Concert Hall through February 23rd, courtesy of Broadway in Austin and Texas Performing Arts)!

In the aftermath of the September 11th attacks, 38 planes were ordered to land at a mostly abandoned airport in the small Newfoundland town of Gander, instantly doubling the local population. The inspiring story of what happened on the several days those passengers were stuck in Gander has been told in many books and documentaries, but is perhaps most famous these days as the basis for the critically acclaimed musical Come from Away, with book, music, and lyrics written by Irene Sankoff and David Hein.

In order to explore the experiences of thousands of people in the days following 9/11, Come from Away’s cast of twelve each take on a variety of roles representing both the citizens of Gander and the stranded passengers, pilots, and crew. Though the story follows along with several key characters based on real people—amongst them pilot Beverly, mayor Claude, and flirtatious strangers Nick and Diane—the cast never stop transitioning into other personas so as to relate the large scope and scale of events.

Like a plane once it has taken off, Come from Away thus never loses its momentum from the moment it begins, seamlessly transitioning between scenes and songs as deftly as the performers transition between characters. Director Christopher Ashley’ and scenic designer Beowulf Boritt’s clever use of minimalist staging, defined by a group of chairs and tables on a rotating platform, successfully relies on simple theatricality to create everything from a crowded airplane to a scenic hillside.

The show’s songs, rooted in the English/Celtic folk and sea-shanty sounds of Newfoundland’s own musical traditional, perfectly evoke the tone of the entire production, which emphasize the sense of community that the townspeople and “plane people” found in the days after 9/11. Though this might risk becoming cloying or sentimental, Come From Away elegantly rides the line of exploring the deep emotions of those days without descending into anything maudlin, particularly by interrogating the ways in which that feeling of community inevitably fell apart as the incident receded into the past.

Although originally staged in 2013, this is a show that has only become more important in the years since it was first produced. At a time when we are seeing Americans—and much of the rest of the world—at our worst, it is inspiring to have a reminder of what we can be at our best (or at least of what Canadians can be at their best) and to see how people of every kind of background coming together can create a better world than one defined by the walls that we build between each other.

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