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Thursday, April 13, 2017

Come From Away - Blame Canada!!!

Come From Away's stranded passengers, photo @ Sara Krulwich
2017 is the year I blew all my disposable income on Broadway. Tonight I saw yet another musical: Come From Away. Unless you've been living under a rock, you know by now that Come From Away is based on the true story of over 6,000 plane passengers whose flights were diverted to Gander, Newfoundland following September 11, 2001. The residents of Gander had to become impromptu hosts and a bunch of strangers who would never speak to each other on a plane are forced to live in close quarters. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll tell everyone to see it ... In fact the only reason I bought a ticket was because several friends saw it and loved it and I trust their taste.

The ensemble, photo @ Sara Krulwich
So what did I think? I liked it a lot. First of all, I was surprised at how much I took to the score. Husband and wife team have of Irene Sankoff and David Hein have created a score that's a mix of Irish folk-pop and bluegrass. There are accordions, fiddles and bagpipes. Plenty of Riverdance-like stomping. It's the sort of music that gets people all peppy and cheerful. I also loved the cast. The 12 players all switch roles seamlessly between the residents of Gander and the stranded plane passengers. All the ensemble members are excellent but a few stand out -- Jenn Colella as the female pilot has a lovely voice and the evening's only solo song: "Me and the Sky," Joel Hatch exudes a calm decency as the mayor of several different towns in Newfoundland, and Rodney Hicks is very funny as the blunt African American passenger who can't believe he's being invited into white homes. The opening number "Welcome to the Rock" has become the show's anthem but my favorite songs were the ballad "Stop the World" and the earworm "Somewhere in the Middle of Nowhere."

Of course the people of Gander, Newfoundland are the salt of the earth — they invite everyone for drinks at the pub! They open their homes for people to shower! (One laugh line: "Thank you for coming to Walmart. Would you like to come back to my house for a shower?")  An animal shelter worker takes care of the planes' four-legged travelers -- cats, dogs, and a pregnant chimpanzee! And the plane passengers are the usual motley crew you’d expect in this sort of musical —a gay couple named Kevin and Kevin, two middle-aged divorcees who fall in love, a Muslim chef, an Orthodox Jewish rabbi, a intrepid plane pilot, a wary African American NY’er, and a mom whose son is a firefighter in ground zero.


The unit set. Isn't everything so pretty in Canada?
The script has the 1/3 serious, 1/3 comic, 1/3 let's-hold-hands-and-sing-kumbaya formula down pat. There's the obligatory Tim Horton jokes, a group sing of "My Heart Will Go On," and some exaggerated Canadian accents. Lest you think this is all fun and laughs, the script also has some darker moments -- an Egyptian passenger is shunned by the other passengers and Gander residents until he reveals himself to be a talented chef. I guess the way to erase cultural stereotypes is cooking a great meal. And of course continual reminders of 9/11 pop up throughout the show. One character is the anxious mother of a firefighter. 

Normally I have an allergy to this sort of calculated-to-make-you-feel-good show. I don't dislike sentiment, but I do dislike works that become overly sentimental. However as the show progressed (100 minutes without intermission) I became aware that any criticisms or nitpicking were essentially useless because you can't hate on a show that makes people so damned happy. And not happy in the xenophobic, ugly, "Make America great again" and "Build that wall!" way. But happy because it's a show about nice people being nice to each other. I don't think this show would have been as popular in a different year. But when you turn on the TV and all you see is Donald Trump, Sean Spicer and a United Airlines passenger being dragged off the plane  this is the musical that will soothe your soul.

Here are a few of the songs from the show:







2 comments:

  1. an excellent review! I saw the show without knowing what it was about and came out being a huge fan.

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    1. I'm actually surprised how little advance publicity this had, considering they had out of town tryouts in San Diego, Washington DC, Toronto, and Seattle. I know lots of people who said they didn't know anything about the show until they saw it.

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