Theater review: ‘Come From Away’

The First North America Tour Company of COME FROM AWAY (Photo by Matthew Murphy)
The First North America Tour Company of COME FROM AWAY (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

Whether you come from near or far, you’ll love ‘Come From Away’

Where our story starts:

“I’m sitting in my car – ”

“I’m in the library – ”

“I’m in the staff room – “

“ – and I turn on the radio.”

Everyone has a story. They know where they were, who they called, and what they saw. Lives were changed forever. But no one would have thought that a tiny town in Newfoundland, Canada would be impacted so strongly, and shape the lives of so many people in the aftermath of September 11th, 2001.

On the small island of Newfound lies a town called Gander; a town most people probably had never or would have never heard of if it wasn’t for the talents of David Hein and Irene Sankoff who co-wrote wrote the book, music and lyrics to the Tony Award-winning and Grammy-nominated play, ‘Come From Away.

The show tells the story of what happened when 38 planes unexpectedly landed in Gander in the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks. In just a few hours, the population of the town skyrocketed from a mere 9,000, to nearly 16,000. The characters in the musical are based on (and in most cases, share the names of) real Gander residents, as well as some of the 7,000 stranded travelers they housed and fed.

In a pre-show interview, cast member Matt Wong explains, “A lot of people say it’s a 9/11 story, but we like to say it’s more of a 9/12 story,” he says. ” “It’s truly a story of kindness, community, and generosity.”

Though this seems like a topic that might be too serious to turn into a musical, the songs beautifully convey the countless emotions both the Gander locals and the stranded travelers felt in the week following September 11th. They tell individual stories, like that of Captain Beverly Bass, who was the first female captain of an American Airlines aircraft and couldn’t fathom the thing she loved most being used as a bomb (Me and the Sky’“) or Hannah, who just desperately wanted to know if her firefighter son was alive in New York (“I am Here“). And, while it seems like every song would be full of sadness and sorrow, the reality of the days following the attacks is that sometimes a good distraction is what everyone needed when they couldn’t watch the news anymore, and the people of Gander brought just that. In between tears and fear, there was happiness, a touch of romance, and a whole lot of Screech.

With such a small cast of only 12 (accompanied by a nine-piece band that performs onstage), everyone had their moment to shine. Particular standouts included Kevin Carolan who played Claude, the mayor of Gander. Not only did he do an impressive Newfoundland accent, but he captured the emotional rollercoaster of what it was like to not only try to comprehend the attacks but to also be a leader to 7,000 scared and confused strangers from out of the country.

The-First-North-American-Tour-Cast-of-COME-FROM-AWAY-Photo-by-Matthew-Murphy-2018.jpg
The First North American Tour Cast of COME FROM AWAY (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

Becky Gulsvig also provided an astonishing performance as Beverly, the captain of one of the grounded flights. Her character provided a unique perspective of trying to be a leader whilst also trying to process that someone she knew had just died doing what they love: flying airplanes. Her vocals were strong and powerful and her acting was emotional and captivating.

The songs in the show tell the stories of so many individuals, and even though actors are playing multiple characters, the show doesn’t feel hard to follow or messy in any way. Stand out songs of the show include, “Costume Party,” “Me and the Sky,” and opening number“‘Welcome to the Rock.’

Come From Away’ is at the Connor Palace at Playhouse Square with performances July 9 through 28. Showtimes are Tuesdays – Fridays at 7:30PM, Saturdays at 1:30 and 7:30PM, and Sundays at 1:00 and 6:30PM. Tickets for all performances are currently on sale and may be purchased at the Playhouse Square Ticket Office (1519 Euclid Ave in downtown Cleveland), online at playhousesquare.org or by calling 216-241-6000.