The musical Come From Away, playing at The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts through December 24, is one of my all-time favorite productions. It is an emotional rollercoaster that is sorrowful, uplifting and, yet, full of humor. Using the backdrop of 9/11, the musical celebrates the immeasurable capacity of individuals from different backgrounds to come together in dire times.
Come From Away begins in the small town of Gander, in the Province of Newfoundland. A normal day quickly turns topsy-turvy as dozens of flights from around the world are suddenly diverted to their semi-used airfield when the United States airspace is closed after the 9/11 attacks (Before the jet age, Gander was the central refueling depot for planes crossing the Atlantic). Overnight the population of the quaint Canadian town grew from 9,000 to 16,000 people.
The musical relates how the townspeople and “plane people” reacted, adapted, and came together over a five-day period before they could fly back home. We become swept up by the personal stories of the passengers and the incredible acts of kindness and sacrifices by our northern neighbors.
Librettist Irene Sankoff and David Hein have crafted a well-structured narrative where each cast member portrays a multitude of roles. The book writers focus on the determination of everyone to make an unthinkable and untenable situation work. The optimistic attitude is a central theme of the show. The show is heartening and inspirational, never maudlin or depressing. Yes, there are tears, but tears of joy as well as of pain and anguish.
The score. also by Irene Sankoff and David Hein, is a mix of haunting and soul-searching compositions and exuberant melodies that elatedly reverberate throughout the theater. Tinged with the Irish roots prevalent in the northern Canadian province, they are almost all ensemble pieces. The songs are performed by a tight knit, boisterous band that would be welcome at any Emerald Isle drinking establishment.
The ensemble cast blends so well together. They are full of individuals you would find at any main street diner. They exude their own can-do spirit as they forcefully take hold of the material with a dynamism and drive that is heartfelt and genuine. If there was a Tony Award for Best Ensemble, Come From Away would have been the hands down winner.
Director Christopher Ashley does a superb job staging the show. He has taken the spare Scenic Design by Beowulf Boritt, which utilizes just tables and chairs, to serve a variety of functions. A smart choice. Anything more elaborate would have lessened the pace of the show and tethered our imagination.
Ashley keeps the pacing quick without rushing the storyline. Under his guidance, the transformation of the actors and actresses from one character to another is skillfully executed. Gratifyingly, the overall effect allows the audience to slowly absorb the impact of what is happening without a preachy or moralistic tone. The integration of the musical numbers, under the musical staging of Kelly Devine, is organic, developing naturally and mirroring the action on stage. The dancing is buoyant and lively and reflects the down-to-earth nature of the townsfolk.
Come From Away, an absorbing and moving musical not to be missed. Click here for dates, times, and ticket information.