After a sold out pre-Broadway run in Toronto in 2016 and seeing much success currently on Broadway, Come From Away has returned to Toronto for an open-ended run. This musical is written by Canadian husband and wife David Hein and Irene Sankoff. It’s based on the true story about events that occurred in Gander, Newfoundland on September 11, 2001 and the days that followed when 38 planes carrying 7,000 passengers were diverted there as part of Operation Yellow Ribbon. During Operation Yellow Ribbon, all departing flights were cancelled, effectively closing the Canadian airspace, while 255 planes were redirected to 17 airports across Canada. In 2011, on the tenth anniversary of the attacks, Hein and Sankoff travelled to Gander and interviewed locals and returning passengers, whose stories were then translated into characters in the musical.
With so many stories to tell, each of the twelve cast members takes on multiple roles as a stranded passenger or other character roles. The cast does a great job of sharing real people’s stories on stage in an authentic and honest way. The actors switch roles so smoothly, changing costumes, changing dialects, and changing storylines, but this never gets confusing for the audience. This took a lot of clever choreography by Kelly Devine and a lot of talent from the small cast.
Nearly every song involves multiple people. There is only one solo in the show, “Me and the Sky” sung by Captain Beverly Bass (Eliza-Jane Scott). This song gives the audience a bit of a break from the frantic, exciting scene prior to the piece and we get to hear Beverly Bass’s powerful story. One memorable moment is when Bass sings, “1986 the first female American captain in history” all the other female cast members stand up and start clapping the rhythm and join in on the harmonies. This number got a standing ovation from the audience before the song was over.
Come From Away is different than other musicals. The music is not your traditional Broadway show tunes but rather music that is rooted in the Gaelic, rock, and folk style that is part of Newfoundland’s culture. The musicians also sit on the side of the stage rather than in the orchestra pit and they got to come out and share the spotlight in a scene that takes place in the local bar.
There’s a lot of wonderful things about this musical but perhaps the best thing about it is the Canadian-ness of it all. All these little quirky Canadian stereotypes that were written into the show added a lot of humour and character.
The main Canadian stereotype that is proudly celebrated is that Canadians are the nicest people. One lyric that sums up the show is: “When the sun is setting and it’s darker than before if you’re hoping for a harbour then you’ll find an open door.” The people of Gander opened their homes, their community, and their hearts to people from all over the world and individual differences were put aside.
This is a story about the goodness of people coming together to help those in need in a time of crisis and it reaffirms your faith in humanity.
Come From Away is currently playing at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto with tickets available until September 2.