New York City Theater
"Come From Away"
Gerald Schoenfeld Theater
“Welcome to The Rock / If you come from away / You’ll probably understand about a half of what we say.”
So begins “Come From Away,” the warm, friendly, loud, feel-good, intermissionless new Canadian musical that takes place on The Rock, nickname for Newfoundland. At the show’s start, today seems like an ordinary day: residents go to school and work, eat, drink, talk about the weather.
But the date is September 11, 2001, a far-from-ordinary day, but rather one of horror and heroism. Because U. S., airspace has been closed, 38 planes descend on Gander’s airport, Once used for refueling pre-jet, Europe-bound flights, the airfield has been all but abandoned, with the town reverting to its sleepy, Brigadoon ways where “a candle’s in the window and the kettle’s always on.”
Suddenly, added to a town of 9,000 residents are added 7,000 frightened souls. Provisions must be made: food, clothing and shelter must be found.
As strangers and natives get to know one another, disparate cultures fuse. Not just American planes land; flights arrive on carriers with the flags of India, Germany, Belgium, United Arab Emirates. Aboard are all religions (a Muslim and a Rabbi figure prominently), as well as a gay couple and the first female American captain in history. And what about the animals stuck in airplane cargo sections? It’s a veritable United Nations, united by disaster and compassion.
Told to energetic music with Celtic and Scottish roots, the show has another lesson to teach: immigrants welcome. These “plane people” (as Newfounlanders call them) are from everywhere, thrust together in what eventually turns out to be mutual empathy. Of course the passengers want to get in touch with loved ones and reach their destinations. But, for five days, until the U.S. airspace is re-opened, it’s one big happy family. When it’s over, everything has changed for natives and visitors alike.
With book, music and lyrics by the husband-and-wife team of Irene Sankoff and David Hein, “Come From Away” sings to an original, spirited score (music supervision by Ian Eisendrath) and tells its story without preachiness or sentimentality. Tightly, inventively directed by Christopher Ashley (with musical staging by Kelly Devine), an amazing cast of a dozen actors double and triple three dozen roles with such dexterity, it seems a cast of hundreds.
At the curtain call, many theatergoers broke out Canadian flags, waving them with pride. That’s as it should be for a winning musical that makes a subtle case for multiculturalism and globalism. Besides, what other show teaches how to kiss a cod? (Answer: quickly.)
--David A. Rosenberg
March 24, 2017