Review: Come From Away an important and worthwhile watch

(By: Mark McKelvie)

A new musical with Canadian roots, Come From Away, combines an east coast sound with a moving plot to provide a special night at the theatre.

Set in Gander, N.L. after the 9/11 attacks, Come From Away tells the stories of passengers from 38 diverted planes and the locals that drop everything to care for them. Plenty of Canadian references are scattered about the show, emphasizing the small town feel of Gander and its residents.

The creators of the show, Irene Sankoff and David Hein, attended the 10th anniversary of the event in 2011 and interviewed dozens of people. After a workshop in Connecticut, the show was professionally produced in Seattle last year, and had a stop in Washington, D.C., and Gander itself before coming to Toronto in early November.

Recounting what happened on 9/11 until the planes were clear to leave on September 16, the story demonstrates the incredible hospitality from the people of Gander. Often forgotten due to the immensity of events in New York City on the same day, the musical is an important reminder to both the people of Canada and the United States about their tightknit relationship with one another.

Although Sankoff and Hein could have just as easily avoided certain aspects of the narrative entirely, they choose to address controversial subjects. The treatment of Muslims is examined when Ali, a Muslim passenger diverted to Gander (played by Caesar Samayoa), is searched by border control agents and considered a terrorist. The show demonstrates the tensions between Western people and foreigners at a time when the world was changed forever.

Performance-wise, the actors play triple duty for most of the show, and with three characters to play, they are remarkably sharp. Jenn Colella (Broadway’s If/Then, Chaplin) plays Beverly Bass, the pilot of a flight originally bound for Dallas that was diverted to Gander. Colella carries the show, having to switch between a southern Floridian accent for the role of a pilot to the eastern accent of a Gander local.

Another standout is Petrina Bromley as Bonnie. A Newfoundland native herself, Bromley brings an authentic connection to the character she plays.

With the runtime of the show clocking in at around 1 hour and 40 minutes, the actors are on stage most of the time and barely get a breather. Transitions between the songs are fast-paced, with the audience only having to opportunity to applaud the performers a handful of times.

Considering the multitude of storylines interwoven into the production, the set is remarkably versatile. Relying on the revolving stage to shift from scenes in Gander to scenes on a plane, the transitions are seamless.

If the set didn’t already signify the Canadian influence over the show, the references made in the dialogue definitely do. Jokes about Tim Hortons and the Royal Canadian Legion were met with boisterous laughter by the Toronto crowd, jokes that may not get the same reaction from New York audiences. The show narrows its scope even more with Newfoundland references, including the ‘Newfie’ initiation of “Kissing the Fish.”

Come From Away is a must-see this winter, and a champion for the Canadian spirit. It will make you leave the theater being proud to be a Canadian.

Now playing at the Royal Alexandra Theatre before heading to Broadway in the spring, the musical runs until Jan. 6, 2017.

(Header photo credit: Playbill.com)

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