“You are here, at the start of a moment…” Those lyrics from Come From Away soared throughout the newly restored Royal Alexandra Theatre on Wednesday when the show had its official opening night. The lyrics couldn’t have been more appropriate, as it felt very much like the audience was watching the start of a significant moment in Canadian musical theatre. We were there to bear witness to a show that has been lovingly groomed and developed in Canada over the last several years and is now poised to take over the Great White Way when it heads to Broadway in March of next year.
Written by Torontonian’s David Hein and Irene Sankoff, the show tells the story of the 38 planes that were diverted to Gander, Newfoundland on 9/11 when the United States airspace closed for the first time in history. The tiny Canadian town saw it’s population almost double overnight, and came together in the most wonderful of ways to show kindness, hope and love to the ‘Come from Aways’.
Developed based on hundreds of interviews with the people of Gander as well as those who landed there that day, the show interweaves the true stories of a remarkable group of people who found themselves making the best out of what could have been a terrifying situation.
Workshopped at Sheridan College as part of Michael Rubinoff’s Canadian Musical Theatre Project, Come from Away had a tremendous amount of buzz surrounding it from its very first performance. After Sheridan it went on to be performed by the graduating students at Mirvish’s Panasonic Theatre where it was live-streamed for Canadians across the country, and then was further developed into a professional production that played to sold out houses in La Jolla, Seattle and Washington, DC. Wednesday’s opening marked the show’s return to the place where it all started, and the opening night audience was one of the most enthusiastic I’ve ever witnessed.
The cast of twelve work as a true ensemble, embodying over seventy different characters and transitioning seamlessly between accents, mannerisms and costumes as they tackle each new person. Christopher Ashley’s direction keeps the show moving at a rapid clip, making use of the revolving stage to help the cast morph from Newfoundlander to ‘plane person’ and back again, while Kelly Devine’s choreography uses movement to convey the intense emotion being experienced on stage.
It’s not often that you see a show where everyone’s story gets told in equal measure, and where all groups of people get to be the ‘hero’, but that is part of the magic of Come from Away. Whether it’s the Mayor of Gander (Joel Hatch), the first female American Airline Pilot Beverly Bass (Jen Colella) or the mother of a New York fireman (Q Smith) each story lifts you up, breaks your heart, and reminds you of the resilience of the human spirit.
On opening night the real life people who’s actions and stories served to create Come from Away surprised the cast at curtain call by coming out to give hugs and speeches, and the Mayor of Gander Claude Elliott spoke to the need in today’s world for us to have ‘get the good story out’. I believe that is why Come from Away had so much buzz all those years ago out at Sheridan College – it was because those who were lucky enough to see it recognized that it was the musical embodiment of all the good and wonderful things.
It is truth, joy, sadness and catharsis all rolled up into an extraordinary 100 minutes of theatre that does exactly what theatre was designed to do. Make you think, feel, cry…and remember what it means to be part of a collective human spirit. Go see Come from Away, bring your kleenex, bring your family, bring your loved ones. Become an honourary Islander. You won’t regret it.
When and Where?
Come From Away
On now until Jan 8th, 2017
The Royal Alexandra Theatre
To purchase tickets or get more information please visit http://www.mirvish.com/shows/come-from-away
For information on the Broadway run which begins performances Feb 18th, 2017 please visit the show’s official website http://comefromaway.com/