‘Come From Away’ was empowering.
A lot can happen in a moment.
While its exact length is not technically defined, a moment is described as a brief period in time. Some of them are forgettable. Some of them are memorable. But some moments you will never forget for the rest of your life.
On that dark day in 2001, on September 11, the world stopped, frozen in a moment. A moment of disbelief, a moment of panic, of overwhelming sadness, or one of horror. Everyone remembers the moment they first heard about the terrorist attack in New York, whether they were at home or at work, or in my case, turning on the TV to watch my morning cartoons before school. For some however, that moment came hours after the actual event had taken place, stranded on an island in the middle of God knows where, after their plane was diverted out of the now closed US airspace. ‘Come From Away’ is their story. The story of a small town called Gander on the East Coast of Newfoundland, who’s population of 10,000 swelled by the arrival of 38 international aircraft carrying 6,579, scared, misinformed and panicking passengers. With open arms, the locals opened their schools, shelters, homes, bars, and anything they could to feed, cloth, house and protect the stranded passengers. In a moment of international disaster, Gander came to the rescue in a story that will make you laugh, cheer and cry; and that’s just in the opening number!
‘Come From Away’ features one of the simplest sets I’ve ever seen in a professional production of this scale, but every inch of it was used to perfection. Featuring large tree trunks growing from the stage (which also housed lighting rigs) the intimacy, isolation and small-town vibe of Gander was easily felt. Lighting was kept relatively simple throughout, but the use of shadows and handheld torches to replicate computer screens illuminating the faces of their operators in a dark, somber control room was a powerful touch to the show.
Music, quite obviously, plays a critical role in any show, but unlike other musicals, the band in ‘Come From Away’ become their own character and add to the diversity, complexity, and power in the story as it unfolds. The band is made up of a beautiful combination of instruments from across the globe that combine to form a unique Celtic sound that is representative of the music that comes from Newfoundland. They are positioned in the wings of the stage, always slightly present in sight, but during the climax performance of ‘Screech In’ they make their way on stage and join in the celebration of the Gander culture. At the show’s conclusion they hit the stage in a solo performance that left the entire audience on their feet, stomping, clapping, and cheering. It was a celebratory end to the show.
Director Christopher Ashley did a marvelous job of filling the stage with action and in lieu of large set pieces had to ensure the story and set were followed through movement, costuming, and the delivery of dialogue. Together with musical staging director Kelly Devine, ‘Come From Away’ was never short of action or something to look at. The dance numbers were executed brilliantly and the choreography of working within the constraints of a plane set were hilarious, staged well and easy to follow.
Brought to life by a dynamic cast, some of whom have been performing their roles since the Australian Premiere back in July 2019, ‘Come From Away’ features stellar performances across the board. David Silvestri nailed an incredibly tough assignment as the Mayor, Claude, and living up to the legacy that had been cemented by Richard Piper, who I loved in the original Melbourne casting. Kaya Byrne and Joseph Naim shared brilliant chemistry as Kevin and Kevin and their mannerisms as a couple appeared natural and well thought out.
Phillip Lowe and Natalie O’Donnell were awkwardly beautiful as Nick and Diane and shared unexpected chemistry in finding love when they were least expecting it. Sarah Nairne and Emma Powell delivered fabulous vocal performances as Hannah and Beulah and their newfound friendship grew naturally on stage.
Zoe Gertz as Beverley was fantastic in Melbourne in 2019, at QPAC in 2021 and continued to shine here at the Home of The Arts Theatre on the rainy Gold Coast this year. In one of the most empowering, but also heartbreaking songs of the show, ‘Me and the Sky’, her voice was unshakeable, and the audience clung to every lyric.
Kyle Brown was hilarious as the wallet-protecting black man in a white Canadian town, Bob, and Joe Kosky delivered an equally funny performance as the local policeman, Oz. Manon Gunderson-Briggs and Kat Harrison were equally as vocally talented in their renditions of Janice and Bonnie and were highly entertaining in the delivery of their performances.
While the above were the primary roles performed by each cast member, they also took on several subsidiary characters that helped build the world of the swollen Gander town. As a cast they worked superbly together, shared amazing chemistry and their vocal performances blended well and created a beautiful soundtrack that, even in my third viewing, still made me cry.
Of the 50+ musicals that I have seen in my 12 years as a fan of the arts, ‘Come From Away’ will probably always sit among my top 5. While the performance was not perfect, and had to be unexpectedly stopped mid performance due to technical difficulties, the final product that was put on display was still masterful in its execution. Even with the 10-minute surprise interval the cast still received a standing ovation and endless applause from the audience, which was very well deserved.
‘Come From Away’ performs until Sunday, 31 July at the Home of the Arts. For more information visit the Come From Away website.