Review by Carly Fisher
To find a musical with a greater dose of heart, humanity and simple goodness would be hard to do and after months away from the theatre, there is nothing better to come back to than a great story of kindness laced with fantastic songs and a strong cast to boot.
Come From Away is a musical about the real life experiences of those living in Gander on 9/11 2001 and the over 7000 plane people who were diverted to this large airport in the middle of nowhere in Canada on that fateful day. It is a musical that respectfully honours the tragedies of that day but that focuses on the best of humanity in the worst of times.
Through the clever, fast-paced 100 minutes of this musical, we follow everything from the logistics of catering for and accommodating so many unexpected visitors, to the need for distractions as they awaited the reopening of US airspace, to the relationships formed - friendships, love, etc - many of which we know continue to this day. This is a story that celebrates the local hero and, in this instance, how the people of Gander, Glenwood, Lewisporte, Appleton, Gambo and Norris Arm opened not just their communities, but their hearts to those on the 38 planes.
I have made no secret of my love for this show - in fact, reviewing the show this time marked my 12th time seeing the musical. On top of seeing the show, I have been so fortunate through my Theatre Travels platform to have the opportunity to interview the exceptional writers, David Hein and Irene Sankoff, and the real people whose stories make up the show including, Captain Beverly Bass, Mayor Claude, Beulah, Nick and Diane, the Kevins, Oz and more. From the moment I first saw a ‘preview’ of this show at Broadwaycon (which was Jenn Collela singing Me and the Sky) I fell in love with it...time number 12, I am so happy to confirm, nothing has changed.
So what is it that makes this show so special?! Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been known to repeatedly attend a musical multiple times but after 12 times you have to question, why keep going back? Of course, the brilliant music and lyrics that David and Irene have created, the precision of Christopher Ashley’s direction and especially the genius blocking he and choreographer, Kelly Devine, achieve, all contribute. As does, unquestionably, the emotional heart pull of this intricately told story and the collective memory of that day.
More than anything, I keep going back to see each new cast member take on this story and care for their character’s journey as respectful custodians who tell the story with a huge injection of talent.
Having seen the show in Melbourne and in Sydney on the pre-lockdown opening night, it was wonderful to see that many of the cast members had remained part of the show and waited out the lockdown. It was wonderful to see them back on stage and, after missing Katrina Retallick the night I saw the show in Sydney, it was a treat seeing her return to the role of Diane and Others. Emma Powell and Douglas Hansell remain absolute standouts in this show as the perfectly cast Beulah and Others and Kevin t and Others respectively.
But it was some of the new faces to the show that absolutely stole the spotlight in my eyes, particularly Kat Harrison as Bonnie and Others who I have not stopped talking about since walking out of the theatre. New to the Company, Kat hits every mark as Bonnie and has the most contagious facial expressions of pure joy throughout her entire performance. This was my first time seeing Kat perform and I can tell you, I’ll be seeing her in any future musical she performs in!
The entire Company is remarkably strong and having now seen 12 variations of casts perform this musical, I can say for certain, Sydney, we are spoilt with talent! Don’t miss this group take to this stage in what I can really only describe as a perfect musical (for my personal taste).
Since last seeing the show, the 20th anniversary of 9/11 was commemorated and having watched the footage of the various memorial services, especially the one at Ground Zero, and having heard the seemingly endless list of names read out, the show once again takes on a new meaning for me. It served as a reminder of why we must continue to remember, why we must continue to commemorate and most importantly, why we must continue to celebrate good and goodness at every opportunity. It is why this show is important and why I can confirm that my 12th visit will definitely not be my last.
The Sydney cast gives us a lot to be proud of about our musical theatre talent and after nearly 4 months without theatre all I can say is that it is good to be home! Welcome back to the whole Company of Come From Away and thank you for sticking out this trying time to return to the theatre with a message of kindness, tolerance and compassion that must be heard.
A side note: A range of enlightening, maddening, saddening and beautiful documentaries about that day were released across the myriad of streaming services around the 20th anniversary. ‘9/11 Control the Skies’ on SBS on Demand is one very worth watching, especially for all you fellow Come From Away fans as it follows the events of that day from the Gander airport tower and highlights the incredible work undertaken by the flight path controllers. It documents the 38 planes with footage from the day and with fantastic interviews - including with Captain Beverly Bass.