Of all the shows I’ve been lucky enough to see recently, Come From Away is arguably the most important one. Daring to deal with a topic as sensitive as 9⁄11, Come From Away is a surprisingly feel-good show, while being executed absolutely tastefully.
Based on a real story, this musical tells a (previously) little-known story of human kindness in times of need. Following the devastating attacks on September 11th 2001 that resulted in the deaths of almost 3000 people, American airspace was shut; this resulted in 38 planes carrying nearly 7000 passengers to be diverted to a small town in Canada called Gander, whose population size was to suddenly double. The locals embrace the newcomers, providing food, shelter and clothes, while forging unique bonds in the face of their unique situation.
What makes the show the emotional juggernaut that it is isn’t simply its setting but also the way the show brilliantly explores the intricate ways each character is affected by the events that lead to their current situation; a Muslim passenger constantly being subject to judgemental looks and a thorough full body search, a mother desperately waiting to hear from her son who is a firefighter in New York City, as well as a pregnant chimpanzee!
The themes of hope, desperation, grief and love are touched on beautifully through a score that is catchy, consistent and touching throughout. Having been familiar with the music prior to seeing the show, it wouldn’t be out of line to say that the music, which is brilliant in its own right, is elevated by the staging.
Come From Away is a true company musical, with 12 cast members alternating from roles as Gander locals to roles as “the plane people”. Although at first, I thought this would get confusing or tedious, this approach works miraculously well, as with the addition of a hat or a coat, the characters transform into completely different people in the blink of an eye. Although this can in part be attributed to the acting abilities of the individual cast members, the direction deserves some of the credit in making this as seamless as it is. The show is so slick and looks so simple that it is easy to overlook the level of complexity of such in-sync scene and character transitions.
Although it is extremely hard to choose standout cast members, Rachel Tucker, whose roles include Beverly Bass, the first female captain at American Airlines, who piloted one of the planes landing at Gander, gets to perform the show’s only solo number, an emotional piece exploring Bass’s passion for flying, and her feelings towards what has taken place. Tucker performs the piece beautifully, and the scene works wonderfully as one of the emotional climaxes of the show.
A one-act show just short of two hours, Come From Away is able to say all it needs to say without diluting the message with unnecessary sequences, or a break to take away from the intensity of the performance. This is not only a show that reflects on the events on 9⁄11, but one that is as relevant as ever in these divisive times.