COME FROM AWAY opened last night in Vancouver at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre and moved the audience deeply through an emotional journey of hope on a day no one can forget: September 11, 2001.
The story shares how Gander, a small town in Newfoundland, accommodated the 38 planes and nearly 7000 passengers who were redirected there after the horrific September 11 attacks. It explores the days following and how the town came together to support people in need. It showcases the power of human kindness, generosity and connections between people, especially in a time of hardship and uncertainty.
It is a small but mighty cast with only about a dozen actors, each playing multiple dynamic characters. They did this so well, it was easy to forget the same actor, with only a quick scarf or jacket change, had completely manifested a new role complete with distinct accent. We loved the thick drawl from Texas pilot “Beverly” and the strong Newfoundlander accents throughout.
The relationships formed as a result of such tragedy were eloquently displayed through both tender moments of compassion mixed with a perfect dash of humour to keep the show absolutely entertaining. It was easy to fall in love with each character as the story delved into so many personal stories.
The entire cast was incredible. Becky Gulsvig embraced the characters of both Beverly, the pilot and Annette, the teacher looking for love so powerfully and really engaged the audience with her performance of “Me and the Sky“. As Annette, she made any scene with the local men into a hilariously “sexy” flirt, which Beulah clarified was “not how it happened”.
The connection between Hannah, a firefighter’s mother and Beulah, a Gander local was touching and well developed by Danielle K. Thomas and Julie Johnson. Bonnie, played by Megan McGinnis, cared for the pets and animals on the planes, which may have otherwise been forgotten as the town turned to take care of all the people. We especially loved the story of Nick and Diane (played by Chamblee Ferguson and Christine Toy Johnson) who met on their flight from London to Dallas, and fell in love after spending those days in Gander together. It was another sweet story, among many in the show.
Stand out performance was definitely James Earl Jones II (No, he is not the son of James Earl Jones, we looked it up, he is in fact “third cousins, namesakes of the same great-grandfather”) who had perfect comedic timing and delivery as Bob with hilarious moments with the Mayor of Appleton including when he was instructed to gather all the neighbourhood grills for a cook out. The Kevins (Nick Duckart and Andrew Samonsky) had a fantastic dynamic keeping their relationship on the down low because “you just don’t know where the red states are in a foreign country” only to discover the locals didn’t care and welcomes them along with everyone with open arms and song.
The music feels very East Coast with a live on stage band including accordion, violinist and Irish flute, performing sounds with Irish, Gaelic and folk undertones fitting for the Newfoundland setting.
Performances include upbeat folk numbers such as “Welcome to the Rock” and “Screech In” as well as more emotional songs like “I Am Here” and “Me and the Sky” with clever use of a rotating stage to create visually entertaining choreography with just the cast and some chairs. From an airplane to a bus, a bar to a shelter, the simple stage allows easy set transformations and a focus on what really matters, the people.
The Canadian influences make this easily enjoyable for Vancouverites especially with references to Tim Hortons, hockey (which was cancelled locally for a few days and the ice arena used to store food as a giant walk in fridge) and even a Molson light at the local tavern. These Canadian spotlights are not even done in a stereotypical way, but in a real, small Canadian town, take care of each other way, which is exactly the kind of optimistic breath of fresh air everyone could benefit from in dark times.
Canadian husband and wife team Irene Sankoff and David Hein wrote this incredible story, based on interviews with the people who lived through the experience. It explores the real stories of real people during a time no one will forget. COME FROM AWAY takes audiences through an emotional journey where human kindness prevails even in the harshest tragedy.