Review by Greta Doell
Come From Away has returned to Melbourne for the final time. And for a wholesome time at that. If you don’t know it, Come From Away is a funny, punchy musical about a small town named Gander on an island in northeast of Canada, that is thrown into a bit of a tailspin (pardon the pun) when 37 US flights are diverted there in the hours following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The town only has about 10,0000 inhabitants, (many of whom are of Irish descent as you will quickly realise) and they are put to the test when an additional 7000 are added to the mix. It’s a feel good musical not only about the innate good of ‘ordinary’ people who step up in times of tragedy, but also about the layers of fear, grief, prejudice and lessons learnt from this massive historical event.
The show takes place over the 5 days following September 11, and doesn’t follow quite the same formula a lot of large scale musicals do. There is no intermission and a more constant score of folk-rock music, flowing from one scene to another without stopping. A live band, showcasing a few fiddles, flutes and tambourines to really set the scene, plays at the back two corners of the stage. The Irish pub/small community atmosphere is also heightened by the one large ensemble sharing multiple roles and moving in unison through all the scenes of the show together. The cast had an exceptional presence and connection, all in such precise unison for the snappy choreography and ballads. I couldn’t help but wonder how they weren’t out of breath the whole time!
They truly encapsulated the premise of the musical well, as it seemed that they moved and performed as one organism, no one cast member outshining the other.
The performers did a great job quickly swapping into smaller costume pieces and using props to inhabit different roles, although we do get the same returning characters a lot, so it isn’t hard to follow. The musical was written this way, as the Islanders were suddenly joined by flight passengers from all over the world, all with different stories. This costume work by Toni-Leslie James added the most simple yet hilarious touches to the show, and the Melbourne cast nailed all the different, diverse accents of each character they took on.
They also had their work cut out for them- the show is constantly moving, and the ensemble has to go from one group number of triumphant story-telling to another, whilst also moving with perfect timing through sequences so that their choreography and changing of set pieces all happen in time. Beowulf Boritt’s scenic design was consistent with previous productions- large walls of scenery and wheeled-out ‘rooms’ were skipped, and instead performers moved wooden tables and chairs to recreate different places in each scene- the plane, a pub, a waiting room. The floor and back wall of the stage are just made of matching wooden floorboards bathed in blue light, which makes sense because this show isn’t about the glitz and glam of Gander. Rather, this design echoes the fact that it is a simple town that doesn’t have as much as other cities, but the people within it are what make it shine. However, the one element that keeps it interesting is the revolving stage. It was a great way to illustrate the urgency of the circumstances - the town must act fast to help scared, hungry and homeless passengers whilst not knowing what other threats might be lurking in this new world they have been thrown into.
The cast were powerful with their vocals, and Zoe Gertz shone through her portrayal of pilot and scared mother Beverley. Her’s was one of the only full length solo songs (although a chorus of fabulous ladies in the ensemble sang back up), and it did not disappoint.
All the characters are charming, and it is a hopeful heart-warming show. The entire cast and crew should be so very proud of the standing ovation they received on Opening Night, and the wide grins that they would have seen amongst the audience members. It’s very much a show worth seeing.