Reviewed by Natalie Salvo
In this cold winter and our second year of a pandemic, you’d be forgiven for seeking out warm things. “Come From Away” looks poised to be a perfect panacea to our troubles, as it’s like a chicken soup for the soul in theatre-form. From the aftermath of the tragedy that was 9/11, this musical rises up like a phoenix to nourish us with the gifts of kindness and the incredible power of the human spirit. The premiere in Sydney had all this and more.
The show is based on a book, music and lyrics by Irene Sankoff and David Hein. Unlike a lot of theatrical productions, this show does not boast copious amounts of glitz and glam. Instead, it’s a lovely tale that has a big, beating heart. It is set on a little island in Canada called Newfoundland. This place would be the unlikely home for some 7000 people from September 12 onwards after 38 flights were diverted away from the United States.
This production uses some simple yet effective direction from Christopher Ashley. The stage is kept quite sparse with a round revolving island in the middle. About a dozen chairs serve as parts of planes, buses and bars. They would host the community that was to form as those displaced persons were welcomed with open arms by the locals from these sleepy, little towns.
The cast is an ensemble one where twelve individuals juggle many roles through the clever use of a spare jacket or the addition of a hat on occasion. A diverse range of stories are told and some are more resonant than others. It’s a case of some quite ordinary people achieving some extraordinary feats. The group are a very dynamic one, so there is a lot offered here.
Zoe Gertz is admirable as a devoted American Airlines pilot who brings great decorum to this anxious situation. But it is Kolby Kindle as a disgruntled New Yorker who steals the show. He delivers a lot of sass and makes his jokes really hit the mark while he is left confused by the goodwill from the locals.
There’s also a blossoming romance between a Briton named Nick (an intentionally bumbling Phillip Lowe) and an American lady named Diane (a flamboyant Katrina Retallick).
It’s not all rainbows and lollipops. There’s a rich sense of authenticity to some of the more sobering aspects of this musical. For instance: there’s a passenger who encounters xenophobia in the wake of the attacks despite being a world-class chef. A gay couple is left worried that they may have to hide their true relationship from small-minded people. It’s also poignant to see Hannah (Sharriese Hamilton), as a heartfelt mother pining for her firefighter son in “I’m Here,” especially when many people were desperate for news about their loved ones.
The music is very energetic. There’s traditional Irish sounds to suit the Celtic setting that will make you feel like you’ve stepped below the decks of the Titanic. There are also some ballads and introspective hymns for the softer moments. The band play traditional instruments like the whistle, fiddle and bodhran, and these are augmented by an electric guitar and bass player for a modern touch.
It is almost 20 years since this eventful week transpired. It is also heartening to know that the story remains as impactful and resonant today as it did when the show first started playing. “Come From Away” is one that really hits home about how less can be more. It achieves this by stirring up a great wealth of emotions in a tight and swift little package. Highly recommended.