Story: Passengers aboard 39 jets on September 11, 2001 are left anxious and concerned when they learn that their flights have been diverted for unknown reasons. After what seems like an interminable period on the tarmac, they finally are allowed to disembark their planes.
They soon learn that they’re in Newfoundland, Canada in a small town called Gander. They’re allowed to watch newscasts which bring horrifying details to them for the first time: The United States has been under attack by terrorists who have struck by air in New York City, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania. Subsequently no planes have been allowed to fly across America for the foreseeable future.
Officials at the Gander airport and village are overwhelmed. The 7,000 passengers number nearly as many as the full-time residents of Gander. Nevertheless, the mayor and other citizens welcome those who have “come from away” to their homes, churches, schools and any other place where they can be fed, clothed, sleep and try to get their lives back in order.
Over the next several days the passengers, initially leery of the villagers and the situation in which they have found themselves, warm up to the Canadian hospitality. Existing relationships are tested and new ones formed between passengers and airline crew members and the local residents as the visitors gradually learn how to trust others again in the aftermath of tragedy.
Highlights: This surprisingly uplifting and highly satisfying musical soars in a terrific touring production now playing on stage at The Fox Theatre.
Other Info: With book, music and lyrics by the tandem of Irene Sankoff and David Hein, Come From Away starts with the pulsating energy of the show’s anthem, Welcome to the Rock, telling its compelling and affecting story for 90 minutes in one brisk and enthralling act.
It features a truly ensemble cast, a dozen men and women who essay a variety of roles from small-town mayor to pioneering woman pilot to a gay couple whose relationship is sorely tested to an Englishman who falls in love with an American divorcee, all in a span of a few days.
The musical, which opened on Broadway in 2017 after workshops and earlier presentations in San Diego, Seattle, Washington and Toronto, garnered a richly deserved Tony Award for Best Director of a Musical for Christopher Ashley, who reprises his responsibilities for this touring show.
Ashley keeps everything organized and motoring right along, although it can be hard at times to ascertain what actually is being said on stage through some thick Canadian accents, courtesy of dialect coach Joel Goldes.
Everything is seamlessly operated on a whimsical set designed by Beowulf Boritt which helps underscore the isolation and anxiety felt by the passengers who are strangers in a strange land. The set is enhanced with some beautiful illumination of various hues in Howell Binkley’s lighting design.
Toni-Leslie James contributes costumes which accentuate the attire of the Canadian hosts as well as the international garb of the travelers, while Gareth Owen adds the contributory sound design.
Performers, each of whom shines in multiple roles, include Kevin Carolan, Harter Clingman, Nick Duckart, Chamblee Ferguson, Becky Gulsvig, Julie Johnson, Christine Toy Johnson, James Earl Jones II, Megan McGinnis, Andrew Samonsky, Danielle K. Thomas and Emily Walton as the members of the primary, 12-person ensemble.
A great deal of credit also should go to music supervisor Ian Eisendrath, dance captain Jane Bunting and Kelly Devine, whose musical staging brings out the best in the frenetic, jig-style dancing which accompanies the exhilarating, electrifying musical score.
With arrangements by Eisendrath and orchestrations by August Eriksmoen, the score features an infectious collection of Canadian folk music and Irish-accented jigs and stomps of many sorts. Playing it all to the hilt are conductor Cynthia Kortman Westphal, who doubles on accordion, harmonium and keyboard.
She is joined by a top-notch band comprised of Isaac Alderson playing whistles, Irish flute and Uilleann pipes, fiddler Kiana June Weber, Adam Stoler on electric and acoustic guitars, Matt Wong playing acoustic guitar, mandolins and bouzouki, Max Calkin on electric and acoustic bass, Steve Holloway playing bodhran and percussion and drummer/percussionist Ben Morrow.
Come From Away is more than you might expect, telling its story in heartfelt style and delivering a powerful punch with its exhilarating score.
Musical: Come From Away
Company: Touring Company
Venue: Fox Theatre, 527 North Grand Blvd.
Dates: Through May 26
Tickets: $27-$115; contact 534-1111 or metrotix.com
Rating: A 4.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of Matthew Murphy