Review: “Come From Away” Inspires When We Need It Most

The Company of the First North American Tour of “Come From Away.” Photo: Matthew Murphy

One could assume that it would be risky business to base a feel-good musical on the events of 9/11 — with foot-stomping Celtic flavored music, no less. But that is exactly what Tony-nominees and spouses, Irene Sankoff and David Hein did with Come From Away, a heartwarming view of humanity in the face of tragedy.

On September 11th, 2001, as the United States closed its doors to all incoming flights in an attempt to prevent further attacks, 38 planes from around the world were forced to make emergency landings in the small town of Gander, Newfoundland (Canada). In a matter of hours, the population of Gander nearly doubled from 9000 to 16000. Over the next five days the locals welcomed the “Plane People” into their town, their homes, and their hearts, creating human bonds that continue to this day.

L-R: Nick Duckart, Kevin Carolan and Andrew Samonsky surrounded by the company of the First North American Tour of “Come From Away.” Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Come From Away is masterful in that while it doesn’t gloss over the gruesome events happening in NYC, it keeps the focus on the blessings that emerge in the aftermath of a tragedy — the kindness of strangers, the unexpected bonds of disparate people, the human capacity for compassion. There are some hilarious moments, too, like when a resident woman says to a plane person, “Thank you for coming to Walmart. Would you like to come back to my house for a shower?”

Much of the ingenuity of this Best Musical-winner comes from the precise and lively ensemble work of a cast that doesn’t miss a beat under the watchful eye of director Christopher Ashley. The clever staging at one point turns a group of townsfolk into the air traffic controllers, and then, into the stranded, confused passengers of one of the planes. And all this is accomplished in seconds, thanks to the ensemble’s chameleon-esque abilities, effective lighting, and just a few chairs as props. Combining their talents to create several electrifying musical numbers that will have you stomping your feet are also 8 musicians on stage.

First North American Tour Company of “Come From Away.” Photo: Matthew Murphy.

In these challenging and dividing times it’s refreshing to encounter a true story that can remind us of our collective potential to come together and heal our wounds; to realize that sometimes, when things are at their worst, people can be at their best. The most touching moment of the opening night was when the cast was joined by some of the real people upon whose lives this musical was based, and received several well-deserved standing ovations.

— Victor Riobo

“Come From Away” is playing at CTGLA Ahmanson through January 6th, 2019. Get your tickets HERE.