Book music and lyrics by Irene Sankoff and David Hein, musical supervision by Ian Eisendrath, directed by Christopher Ashley.
The smash-hit Broadway musical Come From Away returns to the Capitol Theatre stage after months of lockdown – which were not unlike suffering through 38 hours on a plane with nothing but booze and your unwilling seatmates.
We at Theatre Thoughts find ourselves in the unusual position of having already reviewed this musical – and the even more unusual position of the second reviewer disagreeing with the first!
For those who haven’t read our original review, Come From Away tells the true story of 38 planes with 6,579 passengers stranded in the remote town of Gander in Newfoundland – after they were diverted from American airspace during the events of 9/11. Husband and wife duo Irene Sankoff and David Hein immersed themselves in real-life stories and converted them into a modern chorus-style musical about human kindness in the face of adversity.
The ensemble work was almost seamless, and the ease with which costumes were used to switch characters really made us believe there were more than 12 actors on stage.
The idea of stranded airline passengers doesn’t sound like your run of the mill Broadway musical, and it certainly isn’t. This makes for some downright incredible moments of connection, like the scene in which a Newfoundlander communicates to plane passengers who don’t speak English through the numbering in Bible verses, the secretly Jewish Newfoundlander coming to a strange Rabbi to tell his stories that might have been lost, and the joyous, rambunctious welcoming ceremony culminating in a long-awaited kiss between two lonely strangers who met on one of the planes. The commitment that Phillip Lowe (Nick and others) and Katrina Retallick (Diane and others) brought to their characters moved me to laughter, tears, and awe when they hit their tenderest notes. The ensemble work was almost seamless, and the ease with which costumes were used to switch characters really made us believe there were more than 12 actors on stage.
The band members Tina Harris, Jess Ciampa, Steve Marin, Vanessa Tammetta, Tim Hartwig, Seb Bartels, and Matthew Horsley were hidden behind trees onstage for most of the show. Perhaps their most triumphant moment was “Screech Out”, when they emerged from the trees in an instrumental all their own. The sincerity with which they played was an excellent closing moment that’s difficult to surpass.
And yet, whilst I was moved to all kinds of tears, I found myself unconvinced by the lack of depth in some character’s stories. What could have been a masterclass in ensemble theatre was slightly unbalanced and underscored by music and movement that could have been so much more than a melodramatic portrayal of humanity at its kindest. Beverley’s story (played by Zoe Gertz) as a lover of planes and all things pilots left me wanting more, particularly during “Me and the Sky” directly after the soaring notes and dance of “Screech In”. The synchronized movements from the opening songs of “Welcome to the Rock” and “38 Planes”, whilst near-perfectly executed, set a cartoonish, honeyed tone that I couldn’t get past – particularly when they returned in “10 Years Later” and the “Finale”. Perhaps I shouldn’t have expected more from a musical, but with shows like Muriel’s Wedding, Fangirls, Fun Home and more achieving the balance between sweet and heart-wrenching, this one misses the mark.
Whilst there are some genuinely amazing moments of theatre and community in this show, it left me with an overly sweet taste in my mouth and some questions on what truly makes a “feel-good musical”. Even if it didn’t quite hit the right note for me, this show is worth seeing to test the hype for yourself.
If you’d like to read our original review, you can find it linked here.
Come From Away plays at the Capitol Theatre until January 2022. See the website for full tickets and 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
Charlotte is a poet, writer and lover of theatre born in Bathurst, raised in Wagga and educated in Wollongong, NSW. Her works have been published in Voiceworks, Baby Teeth Journal, Pine the Zine and The Tertangala. During her school years at Wollongong High School of the Performing Arts, she received the CAT award for ‘Best Youth Actress in a Leading Role in a Play’ for her performance as ‘Meg’ in Away. Other favourite roles she’s played include ‘Ruth’ in The Pirates of Penzance and ‘Beatrice’ in The Servant of Two Masters. Now that she’s almost grown up, Charlotte is an almost-admitted lawyer and would much prefer to write about or for the stage than be on it.