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Review: Moving 'Come From Away' one of the decade's best musicals

Courtesy of The Fisher Theater


Anyone who can remember, knows the heartache, pain, and suffering that stemmed from the horrific attacks on September 11th 2001. I was alive when it happened, but that day is permanently blocked from my memory, and I’ve always found myself fascinated to ask others “Where were you when it happened?" The answers can be staggering from “I was at work” or “I was working out.” Now imagine you had been flying that day and were forced to land in a small Canadian town in the middle of nowhere. That’s something you’d never forget.

It's also the basis for Irene Sankoff and David Hein’s (under the direction of Christopher Ashley) mesmerizing new musical “Come From Away.” A remarkable true story of how the town of Gander, Newfoundland - a small close knit community whose population barely reaches 6,000 - became the sanctuary for 7,000 stranded passengers from all over the world whose planes were forced to land following the 9/11 attacks. The touring production - now playing at The Fisher through October 14th - employs an incredible 12 person ensemble to play both the residents of Gander, and the “come from away” people they’re forced to put up for five days. The doubling of the roles is an effective convention that helps hammer home the common theme of coming together to help our neighbors. The cast has to embody characters of many nationalities whose accents (be it Canadian or English) have to be spot on and like an on and off switch, be able to change it up without hesitation (major kudos to dialect coach Joel Goldes).

As the story begins, we get some brief insight on the towns culture from the mayor (Kevin Carolan) and several of his confidants at the local Tim Hortons (“Everything begins and ends at Tim Hortons”). All is dandy until they’re jolted by the attacks, and the short-notice announcement that literally dozens of planes are about to be routed to Gander’s rather large airport that’s generally used as an emergency pitstop for transatlantic flights requiring fuel. The arrivals makeup a diverse bunch: a gay couple both named Kevin (Andrew Samonsky & Nick Duckart); a female American Airlines pilot (Marika Aubrey); a pencil pushing English oil engineer (Chamblee Ferguson); a divorced Texas woman (Christine Toy Johnson); an NYC firefighters mother (Danielle K Thomas) desperate to find out if her son is alive; and a Muslim Egyptian chef (Duckart) who is greeted with his fair share of bigotry by his fellow passengers. Seeing that particular characters’ alienation strikes a sensitive chord and is tragically reflective of today. It questions us how far we've come in terms of judging others by the color of their skin and religion. The answer? Not far.

Whatever your relation to what happened on 9/11, it’s impossible not to tear up, or cheer at the generosity displayed by the citizens of Gander and how quickly they rallied to help total strangers during the tragedy. Whether it’s the small town observing a moment of silence in solidarity with America, or how they simply didn’t care that a lone black man (played by James Earl Jones II) was stealing grills from people’s yards to help with a community wide cookout (“They were actually helping me steal their grills” he marvels) - “Come From Away” is a heartwarming story we could use in these politically divisive times. The story is so steeped in the kindness and courage of others that it makes me tear up just writing about it, and the fact it all comes together as perfectly as it does is an astounding achievement unto itself.

Starting down the line with the show's breezy 100 minute runtime (with no intermission) and the Celtic, folk inspired score, performed by an onstage band equipped with uilleann pipes and an accordion. “Come From Away” is made up entirely of group numbers that transition swiftly from scene to scene without confusing the audience. Actors will either throw on a flannel jacket or toss on a pair of glasses to help guide the viewer on a particular character’s journey. Beowulf Boritt’s scenic design serves well to the events, and his set utilizes a turntable at the center of the stage (similar to the one used in “Hamilton”) to help with the flow and passage of time and only enhances the shows effectiveness.

These performers are top notch and the staging is exhilarating. There’s not much more praise I can give other than I cried several times and the musical score - under the direction of Ian Eisendrath, Kelly Devine, and David Lai - is wonderful with the rousing opener “Welcome to the Rock,” the beautiful “Stop the World,” and the gripping “Something Missing” serving as emotional highlights. All those components turn “Come From Away” into a transcending musical experience and one of the absolute best musicals of the decade.

And yes, I’ve seen “Hamilton.”

“Come From Away” continues at The Fisher Theater, as part of the Broadway in Detroit series, through October 14th. You can purchase tickets through Ticketmaster by clicking the link here.

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