I had the great pleasure of seeing the Broadway-bound show Come From Away a few days ago in Toronto and words cannot express the brilliance of this show but I’m going to try! This was honestly probably one of my top 3 musical experiences. Come From Away is a new musical with Book, Music and Lyrics by Canadian duo Irene Sankoff and David Hein. It’s about 9/11 and what happened in Gander, Newfoundland on that day and the days that followed when 38 planes, carrying 7000 passengers were diverted there and the population of the town doubled.
This musical is so Canadian it hurts. From the music to the Tim Horton’s and moose jokes to the plaid and flannel costumes, this musical embodies and embraces and celebrates all these Canadian stereotypes (I’ve always said that no one stereotypes Canada more than Canadians do and that is once again proving to be true since this musical was written by Canadians). The one stereotype that this musical proudly celebrates is the stereotype that Canadians are the nicest people. People from all over the world landed in Gander that day and the people from Gander worked so hard to provide the travelers with food, shelter, clothing, and anything else they needed. They welcomed these people into their community no questions asked. They knew that that’s what needed to be done. No one was turned away and no one was treated poorly. Language barriers, religious barriers, and cultural barriers were overcome and welcomed and accepted, again no questions asked. This is one of the reasons this musical made me so stupid proud to be Canadian – our quirks and best qualities were celebrated. However, I do fear that Broadway and New York won’t understand what’s going on in the musical because of all the Canadian content!
The music itself was wonderful. There was no orchestra in the orchestra pit but the musicians sat on the side of the stage and played. While they didn’t have major roles in the production like Once or School of Rock where the actors play their instruments live, the musicians did come out for one scene that takes place in a bar. They just added so much energy to the scene and made it more like a typical bar scene with lots of people, rather than the main cast of about 10 people.They also did their own curtain call which was lots of fun. As someone who has never been to Newfoundland but knows (a little bit) about the culture of Newfoundland, the music was so well done to reflect the folk/rock-like style that is deeply embedded in the culture. My feet were tapping (and my hands were trying to resist clapping along) for the whole 1 hour and 40 minute show.
I will also mention that the cast of this show is extremely talented. With a main cast of about 12-15 people or so, it is a true ensemble cast. Each cast member takes on multiple roles as a stranded passenger or Ganderite and they switch between these roles so seamlessly – changing costumes, changing dialects, changing story lines – to complete the illusion that this story is in fact a re-telling from the Ganderites’ perspective. The fact that every character in the show is based on a real life person who experienced these horrific events made the story even more compelling. The cast does a phenomenal job of bringing these stories to life in such a real and touching way.
Overall, this musical was so bittersweet – I laughed, I cried, my heart broke, my heart was warmed. A quote from the programme that I think really sums up the musical was “it’s not about the bad things that happened on 9/11, but it’s about all the good things that came from it.” In this musical, while they say everything goes back to normal once the 38 planes leave, nothing really does go back to normal. Everything is different. The world is a different place. The people are different. It is a very touching story and I’m glad I got to see it.