Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Broadway Theater Review: Come From Away


Come from Away
Music, Book and Lyrics by Irene Sankoff and David Hein
Directed by Christopher Ashley
Musical Staging by Kelly Devine
Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre

By Lauren Yarger
The "plane people" might have Come from Away, but the uplifting message -- my prediction so far for the Tony award for Best Musical -- comes from within.

The unlikely musical born out of the despair after the September 11 attacks leaves us feeling good. Proof that humanity can be kind leaves us wanting to stand and give a rousing rendition of "O Canada" while waving an American flag.

The story is based in reality. On Sept. 11, 2001, after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, US air space was shut down meaning that planes on route had to be diverted to other locations. Some 38 planes and 6,579 passengers were forced to land in the small town of Gander, Newfoundland, where the islanders on "the Rock" threw themselves into the task of welcoming their unexpected guests.  

Folks on the plane hadn't even realized what was going on since information had been difficult to come by and when they land, they are horrified to discover the extent of the devastation. They begin efforts to let their loved ones know they are all right -- and where they are -- and to track down the fate of loved ones in the states. They also discover they won't be going home any time soon.

The small population of Gander more than doubles overnight and the simple, plain townsfolk put aside everything else, including a local school-bus strike, to make the visitors as comfortable and welcome as possible. We get a sense of what a monumental task this was when it is reported that more than 7,000 meals are prepared in one night.

The cast, including Petrina Bromley, Geno Carr, Jenn Colella, Joel Hatch, Rodney Hicks, Kendra Kassebaum, Chad Kimball, Lee MacDougall, Caesar Samayoa, Q. Smith, Astrid Van Wieren, Sharon Wheatley, Josh Breckenridge, Susan Dunstan, Tamika Lawrence and Tony LePage play both the "plane people" and the Gander residents in a fast-paced book written along with Celtic-themed music and lyrics by the Canadian team of  Irene Sankoff and David Hein.

Director Christopher Ashley tells the action with the use of minimal props on Beowulf Boritt's simple set with an emphasis on the characters and their relationships. Some of the characters are quite interesting, especially Beverley (Colella), a female pilot of one of the planes, who shows admirable leadership skills, and who gets a nice solo "Me and the Sky" describing her path to the cockpit. Also intriguing are Hannah (Smith) who searches for information on what has happened to her New York firefighter son and Beulah (Van Wieren), who offers her support and friendship. Note to playwrights: some of the most interesting and strong female characters are found in real life.

Among the many story lines, Diane (Wheatley) and Nick (MacDougall) find romance - some hope coming from an otherwise terrible day. It's also wonderful to see Chad Kimball (Memphis) back on stage as one half of a gay couple not sure whether their relationship will be embraced in Gander, though we miss getting to see him sing a solo. Instead, he doesn't draw attention and gives a solid ensemble performance.

What's really inspiring about Come from Way is that these are real people and we feel we come to know them personally. At the depiction of their poignant 10-year reunion, we ask ourselves, "Can it really been 10 years?" 

In reality, it has been more than 15 since that September morning, but the emotions we experience during this show make us feel that all of this happened just a few days ago because we are so in tune with these characters and their experiences. At a show beginning the Broadway run, the real-life Gander people came on stage with the actors who portray them. There couldn't have been a dry eye in the house.

The musical comes at a time when our nation is in the throes of political unrest making us feel everyone is an enemy. There are a few tense moments as Muslim plane passengers inspire fear. There also are wonderful moments of faith as Christians, Jews, Muslims and Hindis worship together and when a bible verse (Philippians 4:6) transcends human language and speaks to the heart.

What a treat to experience a show where hatred is defeated by the simple offerings of good neighbors and caring people. I so wanted to see the Canadian and American flags displayed at the end of this show, that their absence is one of the few complaints I have. Others are one member of the ensemble who needs to take some acting lessons and, like Kimball, learn how to keep from calling attention to himself in an ensemble performance. For me, the music was way too loud, but this might have been due to my up-front seat.

Otherwise it is very tight, inspiring and worth seeing and could run away with the Tony for Best Musical this year.

Come from Away makes spirits soar at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 West 45th St., NYC. comefromaway.com.

Additional credits:
Music Supervision by Ian Eisendrath, Costume Design by Toni-Leslie James, Lighting Design by Howell Binkley, Sound Design by Gareth Owen, Orchestrations by August Eriksmoen, Music Arrangements by Ian Eisendrath.

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:
-- Language
-- God's name taken in vain

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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