While all the world’s attention was focused on New York City two decades ago, another story was unfolding in Gander, Newfoundland.
There, at an airport where planes were diverted, thousands were reminded of the goodness that emerges in the most unimaginable times.
As captured in the Broadway musical, “Come From Away,” the story celebrates the friendships that were formed, the laughs that were shared and the outpouring of love that continues to this day.
Like the recent Disney+ edition of “Hamilton,” “Come From Away” was filmed before an audience. In the production, you get to see Christopher Ashley’s creative direction. Using chairs, he’s able to suggest everything from a Gander bar to the cockpit of an airplane. Highly inventive, the musical chairs concept was jaw-droppingly good on stage. In this adaptation, it isn’t as fluid, particularly since close-ups don’t show the transitions that bring the changes in venues.
Still, Kelly Devine’s choreography seeps through as the cast of 12 stomp through rousing numbers that talk about the concerns of “plane people” meshing with those of Gander citizens. Humor, thanks to Irene Sankoff and David Hein’s multi-layered book, is everywhere, making this a joyous look at goodness at a difficult time.
All of the actors play multiple roles – Gander residents and plane people. Jenn Colella stands out as Beverley Bass, one of the first female pilots in the United States. In “Me and the Sky,” she details her journey and, yup, it’s a showstopper. In addition to telling how she broke into a man’s world, she reveals how a pilot manages to quell her passengers’ fears. It’s a multi-faceted number that accomplishes much.
Just as soon as she steps out, Colella sinks back into the chorus and someone else takes center stage. Again, it’s Ashley’s Tony-winning direction that allows “Come From Away” to accomplish so much.
While all of the original Broadway cast isn’t in this production, the replacements are just as stellar. Emily Walton is particularly good as a rookie reporter trying to cover the biggest story of her career.
Joel Hatch casts a nice shadow, too, as the mayor of Gander who quells community squabbles for the greater good. The actors, though, are so adept at transforming into several characters (sometimes with just the change of a coat), it’s a tribute to the real folks of Gander that they’re able to make such strong impressions.
Performed without an intermission, “Come From Away” never lags or seems padded. It zips along, covering several days in the lives of the characters. Based on real people, they resonate because there’s such a strong element of truth. Friendships – ones that endure – unfold in due time. One between a Gander woman (Astrid Van Wieren) and a New Yorker (Q Smith) brings unrelenting tears.
“Come From Away” provides such a release of emotions – in a good way – it should be must viewing for everyone who lived through that dark, dark day. This brings light – unexpected light – that proves Mister Rogers’ belief: “Look for the helpers” when times are frightening.
“Come From Away” shines long after it’s over.
"Come From Away" airs on AppleTV+