Review: Come From Away

Cast of Come From Away                                                                                   Photo by Matthew Murphy

By Larry Laneer
February 5, 2020

Human creativity never ceases to amaze. You might not think the tragic events of September 11, 2001, would provide fodder for a musical, but two Canadians found stories from that time and created the best-natured show to come down the pike in a long time, the delightful Come From Away.

When all aircraft were ordered to land immediately on September 11, 2001, Gander, Newfoundland, became a refuge for 38 planes carrying some 7,000 passengers to a town of only 9,000. This small Canadian burg became an emergency aeronautical center because in the early days of commercial flight, Gander had one of the largest airports in the world. Before the era of jet travel, transatlantic flights stopped there to refuel on the way to the States. But on that fateful day, the resourceful Canadians suddenly had to feed, water, house, clothe, and take care of air passengers of numerous nationalities, languages, religions, creeds, and even species.

On the tenth anniversary of the event, the Canadian married writing team of Irene Sankoff and David Hein (book/music/lyrics) visited Gander and interviewed residents and returning passengers. The stories and inspiration they garnered led to Come From Away, so the characters in this musical documentary are real people.

The show opened to much acclaim on Broadway in 2017, where it’s still playing. Presented by OKC Broadway now at the Thelma Gaylord, this is the touring version of that production.

The director Christopher Ashley has taken a less-is-more approach to the show, and he nails it. First, the scenic design by Beowulf Boritt consists tall tree trunks flanking the stage and a stonework-like backdrop. Add several chairs of various kinds and a couple of tables and the cast has everything they need to recreate numerous locations, both aerial and terrestrial, all subtly enhanced by Howell Binkley’s lighting design. This isn’t a dancing musical, but Kelly Devine stages the musical numbers appropriately for the story and naturally for a cast who aren’t the usual buff, athletic dancers seen in musicals.

The show features an unusual ensemble cast as Gander denizens and “plane people.” Kevin Carolan as the mayor of Gander and Marika Aubrey as an American Airlines pilot more-or-less act as our guides through the show. All the actors give strong performances creating various characters.

The creators have composed a serviceable score, often driving and exuberant. A top-notch combo of eight musicians accompanies the show. They have an extended curtain call that had the audience clapping along and dancing at the reviewed performance.

Come From Away makes a couple of points relatable to us all. A strong sense of humor sustained the Canadians and their unexpected refugees through disturbing, often confusing circumstances. This show is not a musical comedy, but it has more genuine humor than many musicals that go low for the cheap or inane laugh.

Next, it reminds us about the ingenuity and resilience of our fellow human beings in the worst of circumstances. And this is often done without training, preparation, or even much notice. The people of Gander went to extraordinary lengths to improvise solutions to urgent, tragic events. This should come as no surprise. Something similar happened here on and after April 19, 1995.

In recent years, the world has seen many other tragedies besides September 11 and April 19. This musical shows how people find a way to do what needs to be done in the face of manmade or, even, natural disasters. It may even give you a little hope.

Come From Away by Irene Sankoff and David Hein (book/music/lyrics)
OKC Broadway
7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday, 8:00 p.m. Friday,
2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. Saturday,
1:30 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Sunday, through February 9
Thelma Gaylord Performing Arts Theatre
201 N. Walker Ave.
405-594-8300