"To the one's who've left. You're never truly gone. A candle's in the window. And a kettle's always on"
Penned by Irene Sankoff and David Hein, Come From Away tells the story of nearly 7,000 travellers who were grounded in Gander, a small town in New Foundland, Canada, in the wake of the September 11 attacks in 2001.
It's a story about a side of the horrific terrorist events that not many people would necessarily have ever thought about when reflecting on that time. These are nearly 7,000 people, speaking all kinds of different languages, with all kinds of dietary requirements, with all kinds of religious practises, shoved into a tiny town "in the middle of nowhere" with nothing but the clothes on their back for five days. And it's likely there are even more stories like this to be told outside of this particular scenario.
The original Broadway production snagged a Tony Award for best direction back in 2017 (though I vehemently believe it should have also run away with the Tony for best score and musical...but that's a conversation for another day). What makes this show particularly amazing, is the fact that nearly the entire show is scored - not sung; scored. The songs weave seamlessly in and out of the various scenes, played by a relatively small cast of actors who each play a multitude of characters, differentiated by the addition or removal of simple items of costume and props, plus an accent change.
The Australian Premiere production features the same incredibly simplistic-yet-oh-so-effective set as the original - 11 chairs, plus one wheelie chair and a desk placed on a revolve - placed on Beowulf Broitt's stunning set design. The cast is not your typical 5'10" triple-threat chorus line. These are ACTORS. Richard Piper (43 years of credits that range from Henry IV to Pirates of the Caribbean) opens the show with the strength and vigour of a captain that's about to sail his ship into the roughest of seas. Piper plays the mayor of Gander (alongside a host of other roles) and is easily one of the strongest members of the company. Other absolute stunners include the hilarious, commanding and oh-so-sexy Kolby Kindle as Bob (and others), Angela Kennedy's* (Sons and Daughters, Mamma Mia!) gutsy portrayal of Beulah (and others), Sarah Morrison (Ladies in Black, Mamma Mia!) as the gorgeously awkward Janice (and others) and Nicholas Brown (The Long Forgotten Dream, Disney India's Beauty and the Beast) who portrays Kevin J primarily, but gives an absolutely heartbreaking performance as Muslim chef Ali.
The band (situated on either side of the stage) is exceptional. Given the continuous nature of the score, this is no easy feat. Additionally most of the musicians greatly add to the electric energy of the bar scene. These aren't ordinary pit musicians, they add a real kick to this show and seamlessly blend in with the rest of the cast when they take centre stage.
The one small issue with this show is the inconsistent accents. Surprisingly the most shockingly inaccurate is not one of the Canadian characters. It is very easy to get swept away in the absolute triumph that is this show, but the occasional Australian vowels do distract in what is an otherwise flawless production.
Come From Away is a musical that parallels no other theatrical experience. Despite being a retelling of a truely tragic scenario, this one-act musical is not an hour and half of depressing tear-jerkers. Will you cry? Almost definitely; but you will also giggle, chortle and laugh until your sides hurt, at the awkward reality of throwing nearly 7,000 people from all over the globe into a tiny, very friendly and overtly-welcoming town on the Northeast tip of North America.
September 11 is a date that changed the world. It's a date that divides the 90s and 00s into 'before' and 'after'. Come From Away is a respectful, honest, raw and truthful telling of a small piece of an epic event. It is a musical that should be seen by those who lived through the time, those who were too young to remember it and those who weren't born yet. In the words of the musical: "...we honour what was lost, but we also commemorate what we found". This musical is a masterpiece.
* This performance featured Angela Kennedy in the role of Beulah (and others) and Alana Tranter in the role of Diane (and others).