Gander Bay Lake Sunset: The Modest Reader

Theatre Review: Come From Away

I’m not going to lie, I’ve been a bit bogged down with life these days, and I haven’t had as much time to read as I’ve wanted, so I don’t have anything ready. I thought I would take this opportunity to review a musical that I saw this month, since I’d love to record my thoughts about it and hear what you think.

For Christmas, my husband bought us tickets to see the Canadian cast of Come from Away (with book music and lyrics by Irene Sankoff and David Hein), which has been in Toronto since February 2018 (that’s right—it’s been extended for more than a year now!). It was one of the first musicals I’ve ever seen without knowing anything about the music or the cast (and I only had a really loose grasp of the plot), so I was excited to go into it blind and experience everything for the first time.

Come From Away is based on the true story of when the isolated community of Gander, Newfoundland played host to the world. What started as an average day in a small town turned in to an international sleep-over when 38 planes, carrying thousands of people from across the globe, were diverted to Gander’s air strip on September 11, 2001. Undaunted by culture clashes and language barriers, the people of Gander cheered the stranded travellers with music, an open bar and the recognition that we’re all part of a global family.

My musings
After the curtain came down (metaphorically) and after I dried my tears, I couldn’t get over how smart the book and the staging were: The cast was only 12 people, but there were easily 16 main characters and many other characters portrayed without speaking roles. The way these actors were easily able to portray two major main characters with ease (and without confusing the audience) was astounding. There were subtle costume changes and some accent switching, but that was all the actors had to work with, and they did an amazing job, especially because they were portraying real people, so there were reputations and nuances at stake.

And the staging! It was so simple and yet so effective. The Canadian in me loved (and appreciated) the nod to Tim Hortons and the references to Canadian beer (and Moose), but the way the simple stage rotated and moved pieces about in order to become a bar, a plane, a community centre and anything else it needed to be was truly genius. Though there was no elaborate set or costuming, I always knew where the action was taking place.

The music was really enjoyable. Does this musical have numbers that I sang all night and every day for the next month? No. But did it feel like Newfoundland and did it clearly drive the plot? Definitely! I’ve only spent a few days in Newfoundland myself, and the music had that folk-Gaelic inspiration that Newfoundlanders love.

I wanted to save the plot for last. It was the most powerful part of the show for me. The subject matter difficult at times (I mean, everyone remembers where they were on September 11, 2001 when the news broke and the state of the world in the following days), but you really got a sense of how the community of Gander had to put all of that stress and worry behind them in order to take care of these people that have all of a sudden dropped into their lives. The fact that the story was based on real-life accounts added something special, for sure—you couldn’t have imagined those plots if you tried—and I really felt every single character’s emotion. I highly, highly recommend that you see this show if you can. It’s heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time.


Food for thought
Since I don’t often mention musical and plays, I’ll keep it simple this week: What is your most favourite play and/or musical of all time? I’ve not seen that many plays, but seeing Titus Andronicus was truly life-changing (and amazingly gruesome), and my favourite musical, hands down, is Wicked.

“Welcome to the rock if you come from away,
You’ll probably understand about half of what we say.
They say no man’s an island but an island makes a man,
Especially when one comes from one like Newfoundland.
Welcome to the Rock.” — Welcome to the Rock, Come From Away

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