Come From Away
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The Canadian musical Come From Away opens with the residents of tiny Gander, Newfoundland, describing their home as a rock in the middle of the ocean. That is an accurate assessment, but when the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were attacked on September 11, 2001—and more than 6,500 passengers from 38 airplanes were grounded at Gander’s airport—the town of 9,000 revealed itself as something else: an island of common decency. Come From Away chronicles the true, touching story of how the people of Gander opened their hearts and their homes to these temporary refugees. In trying to capture the best of what emerged from the 9/11 attacks, this gorgeous show proves a perfect balm for our current, rancorous moment.
Written by David Hein and Irene Sankoff, Come From Away deftly blends small-town humor with stirring nonfiction to create a singularly pleasurable experience. Laughter sits comfortably alongside tears as a cast of 12 chameleonic performers brings both the townspeople and the stranded passengers to life. Christopher Ashley’s Tony-winning direction rests on modest but endlessly playful theatricality. Assisted by Howell Binkley’s lovely lighting, Ashley uses his actors’ bodies and a simple series of tables and chairs to conjure dozens of different settings and to create striking tableaux against set designer Beowulf Boritt’s woodsy backdrop.
Come From Away moves briskly without feeling rushed; it evokes genuine emotion without tipping into the maudlin. Tying everything together are Sankoff and Hein’s Celtic-flavored songs, which travel from witty to rousing to touching. While it doesn’t shy from the uglier aspects of 9/11 and its aftermath, the musical captures a moment of deep human kindness. And unlike many feel-good shows that pick audiences up but can’t keep them aloft, Come From Away’s perfect balance of comedy and clarity leaves you soaring for days to come.
Cadillac Palace Theatre. Book, music and lyrics by David Hein and Irene Sankoff. Directed by Christopher Ashley. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 40mins. No intermission.