The Theatreguide.London Review
Phoenix Theatre Winter 2019 - 2020
Come From Away is a
warm, cheerful, sprightly, tuneful and thoroughly engaging musical.
It is a happily-ever-after fairy tale that just happens to be true.
The murderous plane
hijackings of September 11, 2001 led to the
grounding of all air traffic in, from and to the United States. Its
location in eastern Canada made the little-used airport in Gander,
Newfoundland the best alternative for incoming transatlantic flights,
and the field that normally handled a handful of flights a day
suddenly had 38 filled jets on its tarmac, while the town with a
population of 9000 was faced with 7000 unwilling visitors.
– and a programme note assures us that everything in the musical is
based on fact – the Newfoundlanders handled the challenge with an
efficiency and practicality exceeded only by their generosity.
food and changes of clothing were found, showers, medical care and
telephones arranged, and more than could be expected was done for
those 'come from away,' all without accepting any payment and with a
grace and openness of spirit that speak well of humanity.
musical's creators (book, music and lyrics), Irene Sankoff and David
Hein, visited Gander on the occasion of the joyous tenth anniversary
reunion of townies and travellers, and collected some of their
stories, setting them to music that has an appropriately
Celtic-Canadian Folk flavour.
The same programme note
that some characters are combined and some stories tweaked for
dramatic clarity, but that every named person we meet is based on a
real person of that name, and every story essentially true. A cast of
twelve each play three or four townies and three or four travellers,
with the script and Christopher Ashley's direction keeping everything
Among those who stand
out are Gander's mayor, played by Clive
Carter as the kind of man who just gets on with doing the right thing
because no alternative would occur to him, mother-of-a-fireman Beulah
Cooper (Jenna Boyd), who does what she could to comfort and distract
the mother of a New York fireman desperately seeking word he is all
right, and animal shelter operator Bonnie Harris (Mary Doherty), who
lets others deal with the humans while she makes sure the pets in the
various airplane holds aren't forgotten.
Among the passengers, we
zero in on Englishman Nick (Robert Hands) and Texan Diane (Helen
Hobson), middle-aged strangers who meet cute and fall into a romance
straight out of a teenage date movie (In real life they're still
married); the gay couple Kevin and Kevin (Jonathan Andrew Hume and
David Shannon) who, in a scene straight out of Little Britain, are
surprised to discover they're not the only gays in the village; and
Hannah (Cat Simmons), worried mother of the New York fireman.
songs by Sankoff and Hein may not have any obvious hits among them –
the most sustained set pieces are a lovely sequence built on the
dovetailing prayers and hymns of characters of different faiths, and
the slightly irrelevant song of an airline pilot about her love of
flying. But they keep things lively and give the show a slightly
exotic backwoods Canada flavour, as do Kelly Devine's cheerfully
stomping clog-style dances.
(You might in some of
the harmonies catch
echoes of Les Miz and of Sondheim's Sunday In The Park.)
If there is
one nit-picking criticism to make of Come From Away it lies in the
creators' decision to make the whole thing so rosy and positive –
the only touches of darkness lie in that worried mother and in a
couple whose relationship can't survive the stress.
The musical could have handled a little more seriousness, and possibly been stronger for it. But that is asking the show to be what it didn't set out to be.
Come From Away delivers
exactly what it promises – a reminder
of how very special very ordinary people can be, all in a tuneful and
thoroughly entertaining package.
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