Friday, November 26, 2021

Theater Review: “Come From Away?” Go There Now

Broadway is back in South Florida—and what better way to welcome it than with “Come From Away,” the runaway Canadian hit musical by Irene Sankoff and David Hein about the week after 9/11, when global air traffic was grounded and 38 planes from around the world—7,000 people— descended upon the tiny town of Gander and nearby hamlets in Newfoundland to weather the post-9/11 days of uncertainty and fear. And in the all-things-can-be-traced-back-to-South-Florida motif, this musical is no exception; it is based on a 2002 book by our own Miami journalist Jim DeFede, The Day the World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland. DeFede actually moved temporarily to Newfoundland to report on this story, but you can just zip up to the Kravis or down to the Broward Center to experience it, and I suggest you do exactly that.

The set is simple—maybe a few tables and 12 mismatched chairs that are reassembled at lightning speed to become the interior of a plane, or Tim Horton’s donut shop (the center of Gander community), a local bar, air traffic control center or the Gander Academy, where many passengers were housed during their stay. The cast is similarly employed, shifting from Plane People to Town People as the story unfolds in the larger context of strangers offering what they can to one another against the world-shifting horror of 9/11, while characters slowly emerge, several based on the real people who lived the story. Beverly Bass (played by Marika Aubrey) is one of them, the first female American Airlines captain. Another is Diane and Nick, a Texan and a Brit en route to Dallas from London, who fall in love during this interim, or the two Kevins, a gay couple from LA, and Hannah O’Rourke, whose son, Kevin, was a Brooklyn firefighter lost that day.

The story of passengers stranded for a week in the middle of nowhere becomes a fast-paced (there is no intermission) revelation of hope and reassurance as complete strangers are enfolded by the down home generosity and natural warmth of small town Newfoundlanders. What begins as shock and horror (many passengers did not know why they had been forced to land until they saw the day’s events unfold on a TV in the tiny terminal) is rendered into something that feels vaguely familiar, as if you wish you could recall that place and time long ago when people left doors (and hearts) unlocked. When they took care of one another, when kindness was a given, not a t-shirt slogan.

The first North American tour company of “Come From Away,” photo by Matthew Murphy

The cast is exuberant and flawless in their meticulous execution of shifting characters; the music is fresh and the characters that emerge look and feel as real as the ones they are based upon. Hannah O’Rourke (Sharriese Hamilton) delivers a heartrending performance of a mother waiting for the phone to ring, and her solo, “I am here,” captures the anguish of everyone in those few days awaiting news of loved ones.

The creators of “Come From Away” once said it was not a September 11 story, but a September 12 one, which I take to mean one of hope and the rediscovery of humanity in small things. One of the last songs, “Something is missing,” speaks to the void left behind when the “plane people” are allowed to debark, and delivered safely home, leaving both townspeople and passengers feeling a little empty inside.

It’s a message that may resonate even more now than then, and is a delight to see onstage.

“Come From Away” is at the Kravis Center, Nov. 16-21, visit Kravis.org for tickets; at The Broward Center, Nov. 3-14, visit Browardcenter.org for tickets.

Marie Speed
Marie Speed is group editor of all JES publications, including Boca Raton, Delray Beach, Worth Avenue, Mizner’s Dream and the annual publication for the Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce. She also oversees editorial operations of the company’s Salt Lake City magazines. Her community involvement has ranged from work with the Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce to a longtime board member position at Caridad Center. She is also on the George Snow Scholarship Fund review committee. She is a past officer of the Florida Magazine Association and a member of Class XVII of Leadership Florida. In her spare time, Marie enjoys South Florida’s natural world through hiking and kayaking, and she is an avid reader and an enthusiastic cook.

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