Broadway Across Canada
Come From Away
by Irene Sankoff & David Hein

Dates and Venue March 5-10, 2019; Tue - Sat evenings at 8pm, Sun evening at 7:30pm and matinees on Sat and Sun at 2pm | Queen Elizabeth Theatre

Director Christopher Ashley Music Supervision Ian Eisendrath Scenic Design Beowulf Boritt Costume Design Toni-Leslie James Lighting Design Howell Binkley Sound Designer Gareth Owen Stage Manager Shawn Pennington

Reviewer John Jane

All around the world, anyone who was an adult at the time remembers where they were and even what they were doing at around nine-o’-clock local time in New York City on September11, 2001. That was day of the infamous terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. With the exception of Canadians and a few thousand airline passengers, mostly American, few people were aware of the extent of the aftermath of this attack on Gander, Newfoundland. That was until Come From Away, a Canadian-born production, created by Irene Sankoff and David Hein found success on the Great White Way.

There are plenty of good reasons for the show’s success in every city it has played. Besides being modestly Canadian, it is simultaneously parochial and cosmopolitan. Newfoundland culture and sense of identity from everything from cod tongues and Screech to kissin’ the cod is popularized. But the show also looks outward in showing how a planeload of passengers of diverse origin came together, despite abiding a situation that they never wanted over a five day period. One of the most poignant scenes (and there are many) has a fundamental Moslem and a Jewish Rabbi praying side by side while the company is singing a Christian Hymn (Make me a Channel of your Peace).

But perhaps the main reason for its popularity, in of all places New York, is the show’s heart and soul. Come From Away (Newfoundlandese that describes a non- Newfoundlander) focuses on a single group of passengers on an American Airlines flight that are welcomed by a small community and how their lives first collide, then ultimately form life-long connections. From the first song “Welcome to the Rock” the cast offers a handshake to the audience, introducing us to the ‘Newfie’ brand of self-deprecating humour.

The same dozen actors (six men, six women) who make up a true ensemble alternate between playing the colourful denizens of Gander and disparate passengers and crew with a mix of accents. Minnesota native Becky Gulsvig switches seamlessly between local girl Annette with a convincing Newfoundland accent and Beverley Bass the (real life) airline pilot with a Texas accent. She is one of a core group of actors who employ presentational acting, a theatrical style where the narrative is directed to the audience. Gulsvig has one of just a few solos in the show with “Me and the Sky” - about Beverley Bass’ career as an airline captain.

Beowulf Boritt’s set has to be especially versatile since it functions as: the inside of an aeroplane, a Tim Hortons restaurant, the legion bar and a community centre. Toni-Leslie James’ clothing, Howell Binkley’s lighting and Gareth Owen’s sound all contribute to a quality tour production.

The show is not intended as an homage to regular folks that opened the hearts – and their homes to around seven thousand strangers (though, some may feel that they deserve it). It’s about people who come together at the toughest week in their lives and somehow sorry when it was over.

Come From Away is, by and large, a joyous theatre experience – too bad that the event it commemorates marked the end of a kind of innocence.

© 2019 John Jane