Book music and lyrics by Irene Sankoff and David Hein, musical supervision by Ian Eisendrath, directed by Christopher Ashley.
On September 11th, 2001, the world stopped. On September 12th, the stories from Gander moved us all.
Come From Away tells the incredibly true stories of the 38 planes with 6,579 passengers stranded in the remote town of Gander in Newfoundland, a tiny island on the Northeast tip of North America. If you’ve heard the hype surrounding this particular show, believe it; the hype is legitimate.
Irene Sankoff and David Hein’s idea on in theory may cause confusion from a theatrical crowd. How do you create a momentous show out of such tragedy? The answer lies in the real-life stories and reflection of the characters from Gander portrayed on stage. In 2011, Sankoff and Hein visited Gander and heard tales of ordinary people with extraordinary generosity. This is reflected through every syllable uttered on the Capitol Theatre’s stage. 12 actors, a 100-minute musical, and just enough time for a fraction of the 16,000 stories that the writing duo wanted to bring to the world.
The show’s music and lyrics are masterfully staged by Kelly Devine, with the music supervision and arrangements of Ian Eisendrath weaving a tapestry of tales for the audience to explore. With no intermission, it could have been easy for audiences to fall into musical fatigue, however Devine and Eisendrath’s synchronicity knows when to provide relief and when to make you cheer. The folk-rock cacophony with a Celtic twist in ‘Screech In’ galvanises the audience to want to join the celebrations, whereas the more solemn moments, such as ‘Prayer’, envelops you in human kindness.
Director Christopher Ashley creates a sleek and ground-breaking musical that puts the 12 actors through their paces as they don a multitude of hats, scarfs, and jackets (arranged with precision and accuracy by Toni-Leslie James) to become the diverse characters in this epic tale. Working with Beowulf Boritt’s scenic design, the cast manipulate chairs and tables to become planes, bars, outlooks, and intimate moments of soliloquy, aided by a revolve to add smooth transitions and movement to the stories. It’s clear that Ashely wants audiences to switch on their imagination, instead of throwing the literal at them.
The oak covered set of the Capitol places the audience into the isolated, earthy tones of Newfoundland. With rugged tree trunks shirking towards the theatre’s roof, Howell Binkley’s lighting design is brought onto the stage; the many “spaces” of the scenes are highlighted with spots and particularly chosen blue colours, taking us onto the planes that landed.
Carefully chosen to tell the stories of the Come From Aways (a Newfoundland term for visitors) are the diverse cast that delivers the true meaning of an ensemble.
Under the carful supervision of dialect coach Joel Goldes, the 12-strong cast bring an international array of characters to the stage, which is entirely representative of the global reach that was 9/11. English, Egyptian, Georgian, Newfoundlander, and yes, Australian accents decorate the stage. Although the accents for some audience members could be jarring at first, you are quickly eased into the conglomerate of voices used throughout the show.
Gene Weygandt provides a consistently grounded figure as the big-hearted mayor Claude. Kolby Kindle relishes in the comedy of the New Yorker, Bob, as we follow his cultural shocks to over-the-top kindness. Emma Powell’s Beulah brings a touching and tragic connection with Sharriese Hamilton’s Hannah, whose firefighter son is missing at Ground Zero, a story that exudes omnipresent heartache.
The show doesn’t shy away from showing the mistreatment and xenophobia towards the Muslim character Ali, played by Ash Roussety. We are shown the compassion that eluded the racism of the time, serving as a tribute to the overall energy shown from Newfoundland at this time.
Nick and Diane Marson – who met in Newfoundland and subsequently married – have seen the musical over 100 times on three continents, including Melbourne’s. In Sydney, they are portrayed by Phillip Lowe and (for opening night) Angela Kennedy as we follow their beautifully awkward courtship after their plane was one of the many diverted.
Beverly Bass, the ground-breaking pilot, is portrayed by Zoe Gertz whose presence and determinism holds throughout the hit song ‘Me and the Sky’. Sarah Morrison as the new-to-the-role reporter Janice, Ash Roussety and Douglas Hansell as a couple both called Kevin, Kellie Rode as the vet Bonnie, and Simon Maiden as Oz round out the cast and all provide essential figures to the stories told.
Come From Away is a show for our time, and one that is not to be missed. The reminder of the capacity humans can have for pure generosity is something we all need in our current context.
Come From Away is playing at Sydney’s Capitol Theatre until the 22nd August, 2021. See their website for full tickets and touring information.
Book, Music & Lyrics Irene Sankoff and David Hein
Director Christopher Ashley
Musical Staging Kelly Devine
Musical Supervisor, Musical Arrangements Ian Eisendrath
Scenic Designer Beowulf Boritt
Costume Designer Toni-Leslie James
Lighting Designer Howell Binkley
Sound Design Gareth Owen
Hair Design David Brian Brown
Orchestrations August Eriksmoen
Musical Director Luke Hunter
Casting Director Lauren Wiley
Dialect Coach Joel Goldes
Creative Consultant Michael Rubinoff
About the author
Justin is an actor, writer, teacher and European tour guide. Justin has developed his writing for publishers such as Theatre People and ArtsHub. His past theatre credits include directing Stiles and Drew’s Soho Cinders, the ‘brave’ Sir Robin in Spamalot for Arcadians Theatre and the French Taunter/Tim in Spamalot for Springers UK, and his debut role as Muldoon in Jurassic: That is One Big Pile of Musical. As the years have gone by, Justin has taken a great interest in swallowing as much theatre as he can and bringing it to the masses through the establishment of Theatre Thoughts.