Come From Away

Written on November 23rd, 2016

Fasten Your Seatbelts –
Come From Away is Going to Take Off!    

Note:  This review is based on the Toronto production in 2016.  It is now on Broadway at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 West 45th Street, New York, NY 10036.
Come From Away returns to Toronto, opening February 13, 2018, with a new Canadian cast.  

Michael Rubinoff was a Toronto lawyer producing musical theatre when he had the idea of creating a show based on what happened in Gander, Newfoundland on 9/11.  An unlikely subject for a musical, the concept sat on his shelf for several years.  Eventually, he became the Associate Dean of Visual and Performing Arts in the musical theatre program at Sheridan College in Oakville.  Rubinoff also met up with the husband and wife team of Irene Sankoff and David Hein who had successfully written the music, lyrics and book of the popular Canadian show My Mother’s Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding.

Rubinoff launched Sheridan College’s Canadian Music Theatre Project where new shows could be developed, and then he commissioned Sankoff & Hein to write the Newfoundland musical.  After workshopping it with Sheridan students and presenting it at festivals, Come From Away took shape.  It played in La Jolla, California; Seattle, Washington; and Washington D.C., before returning to Toronto for this run.  Next stop:  Broadway in February 2017. And I’m going out on a limb right now and predicting it will take both Dora and Tony awards!Come From Away

It’s a true story:  Immediately following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, all planes heading into the US were ordered to land at the nearest airport. The once-busy airport in Gander was now being threatened with closure, but on that day, 38 big jets landed there.  The local Newfoundlanders found food and accommodations for the 7,000 unexpected visitors and made their stay not only tolerable, but actually enjoyable in the horrific circumstances.

Right now, Come From Away is a hit in Toronto.  Tickets are already becoming very scarce. If you are any fan of musical theatre, you must see Come From Away.

What makes it so good?

  1.  Brilliant creation – The dialogue is natural and witty.  There are many laugh-out-loud moments that you don’t see coming.  The song lyrics further the story and the tunes range from catchy Newfoundland-party, Celtic-flavoured fun to amazing anthems. Sankoff & Hein collected anecdotes for months, pulling together the most compelling pieces and weaving them into a bigger saga.
  2. Enthralling story-telling – I usually don’t like it when a character turns to the audience and narrates the story; I used to think that was a lazy way to further the plot and narrators broke the spell of watching the action unfold.  I’ve changed my mind with seeing Come From Away.  When the characters speak to the audience directly, they all have the knack of making us think they are good friends telling us their story.
  3. Talented cast – There are only 12 actors telling this entire story, each playing many parts.  The accents are impressive – flipping from Newfoundland to Texan to European and back.  It is so good to see some familiar Canadians in the cast. Lee MacDougall will be known to Grand Bend audiences as the jilted husband in Murder at Oakwood Resort at Playhouse II.  He was also in Mirvish’s Wizard of Oz.  Petrina Bromley, a Newfoundlander, was in this year’s As You Like It and The Hypochondriac at Stratford Festival.  She was also in Oil and Water, a Newfoundland production at London’s Grand Theatre. Astrid VanWieren is well-known to Toronto theatre-goers.  There is not a weak link in this multi-talented, true-ensemble cast.
  4. Impressive singing – For many of the tunes, the voices are loud and rousing, other times they are poignant and comforting, and then sometimes fearful.
  5. Captivating music – The 8-person band shares the stage, even taking part in the action sometimes.  Each person plays multiple instruments and the sound is perfect.

I was tearful for the entire show – first with sorrow over the horror of the terrorist attacks, then in sympathy with the travellers whose journeys were rudely interrupted, then for the overwhelming kindness the plane people were shown, and finally with pride in our fellow Canadians, the wonderful people of Newfoundland.  Never has so much emotion been packed into one theatre production.

Note:  This is a one-act show with no intermission – 100 minutes. 

Note:  Come From Away received 2 Tony nominations, and won the Tony for Best Direction (Christopher Ashley). 

Come From Away continues with eight shows a week until January 8, 2017 at Royal Alexandra Theatre.  Call Ticket King 416-872-1212 or 1-800-461-3333 or visit www.mirvish.com for tickets.

Photo: Come From Away. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Come From Away
Book, Music and Lyrics by Irene Sankoff and David Hein
Directed by Christopher Ashley
Musical Supervision by Ian Eisendrath
Choreography by Kelly Devine
Performed by Petrina Bromley, Geno Carr, Jenn Colella, Joel Hatch, Rodney Hicks, Kendra Kassebaum, Chad Kimball, Lee MacDougall, Caesar Samayoa, Q. Smith, Astrid VanWieren, Sharon Wheatley.
Produced by David Mirvish
Royal Alexandra Theatre, Toronto
November 15, 2016 to January 8, 2017
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

10 Responses to “Come From Away” | Add Your Thoughts

  1. This is one of the best shows I have seen. I look forward to seeing it again

  2. I seen this show in gander, NL..I had a chance to meet some of the cast as myself and my family got special invites…. It was amazing… The most funniest emotional first time musical… It definitely did the Newfoundland people proud… Us gander and surrounding areas (where I am from Gambo) I know we are thanking you for the experience…. And the amazing job you did… Thank you all for turning a bad situation into a true life story… I know it meant alot to myself and my family…. And everyone else involved…

  3. Thanks, Betsy. It’s wonderful to hear from someone in Gander who has first-hand experience with this story. I am so glad you got to see the show in Gander. You should be proud!
    Mary

  4. My hubby and I read the book, The Day the World Came to Town and couldn’t believe they were making a musical of the events. We saw it in Washington DC and were enthralled. I’ve already bought tickets for the Broadway production and I just might buy one more round. Great premise, believable characters, wonderful music.

  5. Thanks for your comment, Anne. Did you know the cast travelled to Gander and put on the show there in a hockey arena — 2 performances — just before the Toronto opening. They had the opportunity to meet the real people that they were playing, and many of the plane people travelled there to see it, too. They all had a wonderful time, according to the reports.

  6. Ron & Steve Sarnia
    November 23, 2016 at 2:41 pm

    Hi Mary,
    We saw this show at Sheridan College over 3 years ago and loved it then! Seeing the all youth cast at Sheridan made me a bit apprehensive about seeing it again with ‘older’ cast members, but we were not disappointed at all. Best show we have seen in many years and we are going back again to Toronto to see it one more time in January!
    Not a theatre piece to be missed for sure! Tears and laughter for the whole 100 minutes!
    Thanks for all your comments on this and other shows Mary.
    Ron

  7. I can’t wait to see the stage version Nov 29 in Toronto!. Bringing the concert version to Gander was a brilliant plan to share the stories and characters with all involved.
    As a Ganderite who took in plane people and told the most amazing life stories, I am so thankful the show managed to capture the laughter, hope, friendship, and good nature, as well as the tears, of all the people during of a very difficult time.
    Thank you❤️

  8. Audrey Grantham
    December 1, 2016 at 5:44 pm

    Love to see it come to Halifax.

  9. Told our vet, who is from Newfoundland, about the glorious Bonnie Harris from the book “When the World Came to Town” . How she did so so much to take care of the innocent babies.

    He looked up, from checking our our dog … “THAT IS MY SISTER!” It is the best bet ever … JOHN EARLE!!

    I burst into tears and hugged him. I asked if he would mind, the next time he went back home to Gander, where he fixes the dogs and kitties, if he would have her sign my book. She did!!!

    I saw “Chorus Line” in Chicago and New York; “Chicago” in Chicago, Lauren Bacall in “Coco” in London, England and many more musicals but nothing … NOTHING … touched me like “Come From Away”

    May New York stand, sob, scream, hug, smile and clap like Toronto!!!

  10. Dr. John looks after our little dog, too. I chatted with him about his sister…she and her husband attended opening night in Toronto, and Dr. John joined them there!

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