Goodwill overflows in the heartwarming, home-grown Canadian musical COME FROM AWAY, based on true stories of American air passengers grounded in Newfoundland for the fateful week of 9/11. Playwrights, composers and lyricists Irene Sankoff and David Hein meld the tales of stranded travelers in need with the open-hearted hospitality of the townsfolk of the sparsely populated town of Gander and its surrounds.
The terrorism attack grounded 38 airplanes, and almost 7,000 passengers: the melodramatic handful of characters in COME FROM AWAY is a melting pot. Among them are a female pilot who’s broken the glass ceiling, an American Muslim chef, an Orthodox Jew, a gay couple with underlying relationship problems, and an African American mother of a NYC firefighter. On the local side, there’s an off-the-wall mayor, a labor activist, a green newswomen first day on the job, the air traffic controller, a cop, a bus driver and homemakers. With just 12 actors, mostly all play multiple roles.
The story enfolds in documentary style, recreating how the local folk going about their normal routines and passengers brought down for an unscheduled landing learned of the attacks (recalling in the audience where we all were that day). Over the next four days relationships develop (a couple fall in love), personalities clash, backstories get revealed. In the end, life resumes, but not exactly in the same way.
Events unfold in a sung-spoken narrative at a rapid clip: the play runs just 100 minutes, with no intermission. Celtic rhythms underpin the score that, given the play’s topic, naturally gravitate to a blend of generic spirituals and folk, with some country here and there. With the exception of one solo, “I Am Here", a soaring humdinger soulfully delivered by Q, Smith, who plays the worried mom of the firefighter, all the numbers are performed by the company. Jean Collela as the female pilot gets a rousing turn backed by the ensemble with “Me and the Sky” but most poignant was the pre-finale “Something’s Missing” which reminded me of Sondheim’s elegiac ode to November 22, 1963, “Something Just Broke” in ASSASSINS.
Beowulf Borritt designs a simple set with mismatched, used wooden furniture, with a sparse grove of bare birch trees representing the rugged island terrain. A particularly sensitive touch is a pair of the sheered-off trees stage left, suggesting the day’s cruel destruction, perhaps the Twin Towers. Howell Brinkley’s versatile lighting, facilitates quick scene shifts and mood. Christopher Ashley’s direction is seamless. There’s not one wasted moment, it all moves with precise economy. All the pieces in COME FROM AWAY fit so exactly, despite its feel-good nature, I couldn’t help but be aware of how it was structured - carpentered from real life stories, planed to take rough edges out, sanded smooth, then polished to shining inspiration.
ough edges out, sanded smooth, then polished to shining inspiration.
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