A heartwarming musical about people coming together in a small town in Newfoundland after 9/11

by Ann Marie Cusella

Come From Away is playing from December 13th – 18th, 2022

a Show of Hospitality

First seen at Shea’s in 2019, Come From Away is a heartwarming musical about people coming together in a small town in Newfoundland after the 9/11 terrorist attack on the Twin Towers when 38 commercial planes were forced to land on an airstrip in the town of Gander, population about 7,000. The town found itself hosting almost that many people for five days, opening its heart as well as its buildings and communities to them.

Book, music, and lyrics are by the Canadian team of Irene Sankoff and David Hein, who interviewed people in Gander in 2011 at the 10th reunion of the plane and townspeople, using what they learned as the basis for their musical.

What might have devolved into a syrupy sentimental mishmash instead uses wit and honest feeling to tell its true story. 100 minutes of effervescent dialogue, music, song and dance in which some characters are clearly delineated, while others are composites, Come From Away recreates a temporary insular world and community which lasted just five days but changed lives forever.

Come From Away is a musical journey

Songs to Uplift the Spirit

The entire ensemble of 12 actors, all onstage most of the time, is excellent in their many roles. The dialogue is fast-paced, chairs are moved around with precision, all sing and dance, are in almost constant motion, changing from character to character and place to place effortlessly in sometimes balletic movements, which means a great deal of creative energy and hard work under the direction of Christopher Ashley.

Each song highlights an aspect of either the physical or emotional experience for everyone in this most unusual situation. Blankets and Bedding has the townspeople dashing about gathering basic items for the plane people. Darkness and Trees addresses the fears of people finally deplaning after 14, 20, or 28 hours, being taken to an unknown destination, not aware of what has happened that caused them to be brought to this faraway place or what will happen to them there. Something Missing speaks to the changes in everyone after five days “we all looked the same but we’re different than we were.”

A melodic solo, Me and the Sky”, sung by Marika Aubrey as Captain Beverley Bass, tells her story from her childhood to becoming the first woman to captain a commercial plane in the United States. Danielle K. Thomas as Hannah, a woman whose firefighter son died at the Twin Towers, sings the lamentation I Am Here with mournful sadness.

Letting One’s Best Self Shine

Music, rooted in Celtic folk and soft rock along with some foot-stompin’ rhythms, is played on stage by eight superb musicians. They play the fiddle, flute, bodhran, Irish pipes called uilleann, guitars, mandolin, accordion and more. Their performance as they gather onstage after the curtain call is a raucous bring-down-the-house fitting finale to end the evening.

The set by Beowulf Boritt has a woodsy look with tall tree trunks surrounding the stage, a turntable, mismatched wooden chairs, a few tables and a planked wood back wall that create a plane luggage hold (with a wild animal or two as passengers), a bar, an outlook, and all the places the action goes. The rustic feel and simplicity of the set is in keeping with the setting and with the people who inhabit the town.

Come From Away tells a serious story, but never takes itself too seriously, which is a gift to its enthusiastic audiences. Maudlin never plays well, and it would be very easy to slip into given the subject matter. But this musical is about the aftermath, not the attack itself, when people let their best selves shine, took care of each other, and changed their lives. It is a compelling evening of theater.

Dates, Tickets and More Information

Come From Away is playing at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre from December 13th – 18th, 2022.

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