Regional Reviews: Boston
Come From Away
Also see Josh's review of Admissions
The first North American tour of the seven-time Tony-nominated musical (it won one) is the opening production of the 2019-2020 Lexus Broadway In Boston Season at the Citizens Bank Opera House. Tony Award-winning director Christopher Ashley is joined by the original Broadway design team, featuring musical staging by Kelly Devine, music supervision by Ian Eisendrath, scenic design by Beowulf Boritt, costume design by Toni-Leslie James, lighting design by Howell Binkley, and sound design by Gareth Owen. I am happy to report that the tour staging faithfully replicates that which is still running at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, where it has been since its first preview in February, 2017. Prior to Broadway, Come From Away had tryouts in San Diego, Seattle, Washington DC, and Toronto.
Since the show's inception, an oft-asked question is why anyone would want to see a musical about 9/11, but Come From Away offers the antidote to the evil that was wrought on that day. Although it takes place in Gander over the course of the subsequent four days and chronicles the massive operation set in motion by our neighbors to the north, the reality of what happened and the uncertainty shared by the passengers is woven throughout the story. Yet, even as they remain in shock and fear, not knowing what they will face when they go home and when that will be, they are warmed and protected by the hospitality and loving embrace of their Newfoundland hosts. None of them want to be there, but they adapt and learn to accept their situation, eventually establishing camaraderie with each other and developing bonds with the locals, many of which remain intact.
An ensemble cast of twelve actors, supplemented by six standbys, play multiple roles, seamlessly alternating between someone from Gander and some of the come-from-awayers. Everyone is an important cog in the wheel that drives the production, but the stories of a few characters get slightly more play. Of the Gander folks, Mayor Claude (Kevin Carolan) is in charge, but his collaborative style and laid back mien establish the tone. Beulah (Julie Johnson) is a no-nonsense force who gets things done and takes care to connect with a couple of passengers who are struggling. Representing the point of view of the grounded pilots, American Airlines Captain Beverley Bass (Marika Aubrey) balances her responsibility for her aircraft, crew and passengers with her own feelings about the experience. A romance between passengers Diane (Christine Toy Johnson) and Nick (Chamblee Ferguson) plays out sweetly, just one of the relationships we get to see grow and blossom from the seeds of despair.
Come From Away is nothing like a standard book musical as the dialogue organically and consistently leads into and out of songs, and music underscores nearly every scene. The eight members of the band are a constant presence off to the side of the stage, but join the festivities when everyone goes to a local bar to let off steam, and the musicians also get a few moments of well-deserved appreciation at the end of the show. Music director Cameron Moncur conducts and plays in the band, which features some unusual instruments to authentically capture the Celtic sound. In addition to keyboard, guitars and fiddle, listen for whistles, Irish flute, uilleann pipes, bouzouki, and bodhrán.
The cast feeds off the band's vibrant playing, capturing all of the spirit and urgency of Kelly Devine's masterful musical staging. There is a feeling of continuous motion throughout the show as the actors rearrange chairs to suggest an airplane cabin, a bus interior, or a shelter, and put on or remove a jacket or a hat to become a different character. Occasionally, the pace is diminished for a somber scene or a slow song, and lighting effects augment the changing moods. The company can convey tension, anger, sadness, and a litany of emotions, but the main takeaway is a mixed bag of humanity, hope, and the power of community and love to triumph over evil and fear.
Come From Away captures the zeitgeist of Sept. 11th and the following days with authenticity and respect. It illustrates what can be accomplished when altruism is put into practice, when cultural and ethnic differences are tabled, when music is used for healing, and shows how deep gratitude can grow into lasting friendships. It has always been an extremely moving and uplifting theater experience on many levels, but in 2019, it takes on a poignant nostalgic quality. It is a powerful reminder of how we came together as a nation and garnered the support and sympathy of the international community. On September 11, 2001, much was lost, but in the aftermath, something more important was found.
Come From Away runs through November 17, 2019, at the Citizens Bank Opera House, 539 Washington Street, Boston MA. For tickets and information, visit the box office or www.BroadwayInBoston.com or call 800-982-2787. For more information on the tour, visit comefromaway.com.
Book, Music and Lyrics by Irene Sankoff and David Hein, Directed by Christopher Ashley; Musical Staging, Kelly Devine; Music Supervision, Ian Eisendrath; Scenic Design, Beowulf Boritt; Costume Design, Toni-Leslie James; Lighting Design, Howell Binkley; Sound Design, Gareth Owen; Orchestrations, August Eriksmoen; Arrangements, Ian Eisendrath; Music Coordinator, David Lai; Hair Design, David Brian Brown; Dialect Coach, Joel Goldes; Production Stage Manager, Shawn Pennington
Cast: Marika Aubrey, Kevin Carolan, Harter Clingman, Nick Duckart, Chamblee Ferguson, Christine Toy Johnson, Julie Johnson, James Earl Jones II, Julia Knitel, Andrew Samonsky, Sharone Sayegh, Danielle K.Thomas, Jenny Ashman, Jane Bunting, Amelia Cormack, Aaron Michael Ray, Kilty Reidy, Brandon Springman; The Band: Cameron Moncur, Isaac Alderson, Kiana June Weber, Adam Stoler, Martin Howley, Max Calkin, Steve Holloway, Ben Morrow