Come From Away

Comedy Theatre. Playing now, until 19th January 2020

Book, Music & Lyrics: Irene Sankoff, David Hein

Director: Christopher Ashley

Musical staging: Kelly Devine

By Stella Joseph-Jarecki

Come From Away is simply a remarkable 90 minutes of theatre. It proves a show can pick an absolute punch without an absolute spectacle, going without large-scale sets, lavish costumes, or complex special effects.

Photo credit: Stella Joseph-Jarecki

The show does not feature the traditional music theatre divide of a few main roles and a crowd of chorus members. Instead, it is energised by twelve fantastic performers who are on stage for almost the entire show, with each performer in charge of portraying multiple characters.

Come From Away tells the stranger-than-fiction story of the small town of Gander, Newfoundland, population 10,000, that suddenly had to host 7,000 stranded passengers in the wake of 9/11. In the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attack, all air traffic in or bound for the USA was grounded. As the airport in Gander is one of the largest in the world (and was frequently used back when US aeroplanes still needed to re-fuel before crossing the Atlantic), a whopping 38 planes were forced to land there.

The townspeople of Gander and the stranded passengers use the forces of music and alcohol to lift their spirits after a long few days. Photo credit: Jeff Busby

While the events which spark the plotline are obviously tragic, the mood of the show never veers into sappy sentimentality, because it focuses on the incredible power of these very human stories of resilience, and making do in seemingly impossible circumstances. We hear the story of the stranded passengers from many sides, as the patchwork of anecdotes from the townspeople and travellers are woven into vibrant songs. The actors would change roles with fluidity, sometimes with the simple technique of taking off/ putting on a certain jacket or hat.

The small but mighty band of eight musicians played with incredible skill and vitality, and kept me and my parents bopping our heads throughout the entire production. The musical energy was brought from the first seconds of the opening scene, the thumping percussive chorus Welcome to The Rock. Several numbers in the show, such as Heave Away and Screech In, channeled the traditional music of Newfoundland, a kind of fiddle-heavy folk music reminiscent of pirate sea shanties. (The traditional music of Newfoundland has its roots in Celtic music, I found an informative and concise article on this musical heritage here)

Englishman Nick (Nathan Carter) and American Diane (Katrina Retallick) form a bond over the course of the events in Gander. Photo credit: Jeff Busby

Being a non-traditional musical, the production didn’t feature formal dance choreography so much as stylized movement and theatrical blocking of the actors. Many of these techniques would be very familiar to anyone who has taken a basic acting course, such as having two rows of wooden chairs set up to represent the interior of the plane, and a near constant flow of performers weaving around each other as they shifted from scene to scene, maintaining the energised dynamic of the show without any sagging between the developments of the story.

Gander citizen Beulah (Emma Powell) comforts passenger Hannah (Sharriese Hamilton), who is yet to hear news of her firefighter son in the wake of 9/11. Photo credit: Jeff Busby

One rare solo musical number was sung by Beverley Bass, a female air captain of one of the flights grounded in Gander (played by Zoe Gertz). The mood of Me and the Sky was reflective and triumphant, as Beverley told her story of persevering in a profession where only a tiny portion of flight captains are female. The song hits its peak with a killer belting section, very musically appropriate as she sings of soaring through the sky and finding her wings.

With only a bare-bones set of wooden chairs and tables on a revolving stage, the cast and crew of Come From Away created an immersive and wonderfully entertaining musical experience. Despite the sobering plot device, the musical was uproariously funny, with just the right amount of inspirational sprinkled in.  

I encourage absolutely everyone to see it. Even if you are someone who doesn’t normally enjoy big-budget musicals, the unorthodox character of Come From Away is sure to appeal.

Gander mayor Claude (Richard Piper) holds a ceremony in the pub to make some of the stranded passengers honorary Newfoundlanders. Photo credit: Jeff Busby

Cast:                                                                                                   

Nicholas Brown: Kevin J & Others                                                                 

Nathan Carter: Nick & Others

Zoe Gertz: Beverley & Others

Sharriese Hamilton: Hannah & Others

Doug Hansell: Kevin T & Others

Kolby Kindle: Bob & Others

Simon Maiden: Oz & Others

Sarah Morrison: Janice & Others

Richard Piper: Claude & Others

Emma Powell: Beulah & Others

Katrina Retallick: Diane & Others

Kellie Rode: Bonnie & Others

Band:

Luke Hunter: Musical Director, keyboard, harmonium, accordion

Vicky Jacobs: Assistant Musical Director

Dave Beck: Drums, percussion

Caleb Garfinkel: Mandolin, acoustic guitar, bouzouki

Tim Hartwig: Electric, acoustic and nylon guitars

Matthew Horsley: Whistles, Irish flute, uilleann pipes

James Kempster: Electric and acoustic bass

Xani Kolac: Fiddle

Ben Smart: Bodhrán and percussion

Creatives:

Irene Sankoff, David Hein: Book, Music & Lyrics:

Christopher Ashley: Director

Kelly Devine: Musical staging

Ian Eisendrath: Musical supervisor, musical arrangements

Beowulf Boritt: Scenic designer

Toni-Leslie James: Costume designer

Howell Binkley: Lighting designer

Luke Hunter: Musical director

Gareth Owen: Sound design

August Eriksmoen: Orchestrations

Joel Goldes: Dialect coach

Richard J. Hinds: Associate choreographer

Lynne Ruthven: Casting director

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