My penpal (yes, penpal since the third grade) Sue was in town with her husband to visit his daughter and they invited me to join them for dinner and a musical.
During the 2017 Tony Awards broadcast, I was blown away by the number (“Welcome to the Rock”) that the cast of Come From Away: A New Musical performed. I knew that seeing it was probably not in the cards because of the expense. But when Sue mentioned that was the musical we would be seeing, I was thrilled. Before the show, we met at Marseille for dinner. We’d eaten there before and the food is very good. If it sounds familiar that’s because it’s usually the first restaurant ad you see at the back of your Playbill. It’s filled with lots of white-haired (probably) theater-goers. The service is excellent. I got there early and started with a Ketel One on the rocks. It’s a shame I didn’t glance at the cocktail menu because there were one or two that I would have liked to have tried (what a change in attitude for me). While looking through the wines by the glass section, I asked the waiter about a wine I wasn’t familiar with and his description inspired me to order a glass with dinner. I had the soup du jour, which was a delicious butternut squash soup with brown butter, cream, and micro greens. My entrée was duck breast with root vegetables and a pear-port sauce. And dessert was an apple-plum galette with black pepper ice cream and a plum port sauce. Everything was wonderful. The galette’s dough was a little dry but the black pepper ice cream more than made up for it.
We had such excellent seats that I told Sue I was already so happy that it didn’t matter what the show was like. We were in the center of row J in the center orchestra. We laughed when some people in the row in front of us pulled out a big Newfoundland flag and posed for photos in front of the stage (it was a guess as to what flag it was but an educated one based on the musical’s plot). Then several groups throughout the theater started waving little Newfoundland flags. Just before the start of the show, Neil Patrick Harris walked in and sat a few rows ahead of us.
The stage set was bare and crowded at the same time. On either side at the front of the stage were tall tree trunks with their roots wrapped around the front edge and front side of the stage. A forest with small white lights throughout the trees covered both sides of the stage and in the center were wooden chairs and tables of different shapes of sizes. The back wall was all wood with cut outs that would turn out to be doors or a cargo hold. The band sat on stage in the forest on both sides. The music had a strong Celtic feeling.
All the scene changes were done by the actors. A turntable helped them move the chairs and tables around so that the stage represents a diner, a plane, buses, a community center, a bar, and homes of several Newfoundland residents. The action takes place in Gander, Newfoundland starting on September 11, 2001 and the days following when 38 planes are diverted to Newfoundland and the towns have to feed and house almost 7000 passengers (which doubled the size of the town) and 19 animals in cargo. The show starts in the diner and moves from the first angry and then frightened passengers on one of the planes as they finally find out why they have been sitting so long on the tarmac in the Newfoundland. Despite a strike, school bus drivers take the passengers from the planes to a community center in Gander and then many of the passengers end up in Gander homes so that they can shower and sleep in a real bed.
The cast plays the residents of Gander and the passengers. One romance blooms between two of the passengers and another couple from the plane discover their priorities are different. Gays and blacks on the plane aren’t sure how rural Newfoundlanders are going to accept them but everyone in Gander is welcoming and friendly. Food is mostly cod au gratin, which is said with such a thick accent that it’s difficult to know what they’re saying until it’s finally translated as fish with cheese.
Despite the horror of why they’ve been brought together the people of the small town and the passengers become close and they laugh and drink while waiting for the go-ahead for the planes to leave. The Gander residents won’t take any money for their kindness and generosity, so the passengers stuff the City Hall suggestion box with cash and take up a collection on the plane. One million dollars was raised for college scholarships for the Newfoundland high school students. Ten years later the crew and passengers from the plane return to Gander to reunite with the life-long friends that they had found.
“Prayer” starts as the “Prayer of St. Francis” but soon blends into a Jewish prayer and then a Muslim prayer as different passengers pray. The entire cast was excellent but two stand-outs were “Me and the Sky” sung by Jenn Colella and the female cast members and “I Am Here” sung by Tamika Lawrence.
I didn’t think a play with 9/11 as part of the plot could be funny but it is. And, of course, there are a few tears. The play moves fast with one song almost leading into another. There is no intermission and there’s never a slow section. When it ended, the audience jumped up as one person to applaud the cast and they came out for two curtain calls. Afterwards, the musicians came to the edge of the stage and played for the audience.
It’s a true story – interviews were done by Irene Sankoff and David Hein (book, music, and lyrics) during the tenth anniversary reunion and some stories were merged and others stories were used directly for the musical.
The cast was Petrina Bromley (Bonnie and others); Geno Carr (Oz and others); Jenn Colella (Beverly, Annette, and others); Alex Finke (Janice and others); De’lon Grant (Bob and others); Joel Hatch (Claude and others); Chad Kimball (Kevin T., Garth, and others); Tamika Lawrence (Hannah and others); Lee MacDougall (Nick, Doug, and others); Caesar Samayoa (Kevin J., Ali, and others); Astrid Van Wieren (Beulah and others); and Sharon Wheatley (Diane and others). (A special shout-out to Lawrence, who was an understudy. I haven’t seen Q. Smith’s performance but Lawrence did such an excellent job that I cannot imagine anyone else in that role.)
The musical is brilliantly directed by Tony award winner Christopher Ashley. The simple and ultilitarian scenic design was by Beowulf Boritt, costume design by Toni-Leslie James, the effective lighting design by Howell Brinkley, and sound design by Gareth Owen. Dialect coach Joel Goldes did an excellent job as did the cast as they switched from accent to accent. Dance captain was Josh Breckenridge and assistant dance captain was Caesar Samayoa.
The band was Ian Eisendrath (arranger/conductor/keyboard/accordion/harmonium); Ben Power (whistles/Irish flute/uilleann pipes); Caitlin Warbelow (fiddle); Alec Berlin (electric/acoustic guitars); Nate Lueck (acoustic guitar/mandolins/bouzouki); Carl Carter (electric/acoustic basses); Romano Di Nillo (bodhran/percussion); and Larry Lelli (drums/percussion). Associate music director was Chris Ranney, music coordinator was David Lai, and electronic music design was by Andrew Barrett. Orchestrations were by August Eriksmoen.
By Carene Lydia Lopez