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 (Enquiries: stellamusicwriter.wordpress.com)
Come From Away is simply a remarkable ninety 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.
The show does not feature the traditional music theatre divide of a handful 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.
While the events which spark the plotline are obviously tragic, the mood of the show never veers into sappy sentimentality. Instead it focuses on the human stories of resilience and making do in seemingly impossible circumstances. The patchwork of anecdotes from the townspeople and travelers 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)
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.
One of the 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.
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
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
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