Come from Away: a musical review by Victor Grynberg

October 28, 2021 by Victor Grynberg
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It would not be accurate to describe “Come from Away” as simply a musical.

Come From Away cast                                 Photo: Jeff Busby

The normal word for a production of musical numbers, sometimes telling a story and sometimes just an excuse to sing some songs.

“Come from Away” is a theatrical re-telling of the amazing response by the people of Gander in Newfoundland to the catastrophe of 9/11, illustrated by a pulsing musical score and some energetic dancing.

After the terrorists’ hijacked planes had crashed into the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon on that fateful day the American authorities stopped all planes from Europe from landing on American soil.

255 aircraft were diverted to Canada, including 29 planes carrying 6579 people that landed in remote Gander, a city of 10,000 people with only 550 hotel rooms (many not vacant of course).

How the people of this small city and nearby townships cared for these stranded people plus assorted dogs, cats and chimpanzees for the next five days, fed them, clothed them and gave them facilities for sleeping and bathing is told in a non-stop 100 minutes.

The production I enjoyed last night in Sydney lacked nothing in the quality of actors and musicians that I had experienced on Broadway exactly two years ago.

The key cast of 12 plays multiple roles each. Switching smoothly from crew and passengers to various Gander locals the 12 key members were so well-rehearsed in their roles they carried off their tasks excellently. Rarely do I see a show where I can’t help but noticing a weakness here and there. For Sydneysiders, it might come as a surprise that there were no NIDA graduates but four from WAAPA.

From Chicago comes Gene Weygandt, a very experienced Jewish performer whose many roles include “Old Jews telling Jokes”. He gets the show off to a flying start as the Mayor of Gander and nothing falters after this. For members of our community, the scene with the Rabbi passenger only willing to eat Kosher and then meeting the only Jew in town was beautifully written and performed, ending with a full choral rendition of “Oseh Shalom Bimromav”. This one scene alone made the show worthwhile for me.

You won’t get a scene like this without a connection. Lyricist Irene Sankoff and composer David Hein are both community members. Before writing this musical they spent a whole month in Gander interviewing locals, ten years after the event. No wonder that despite the musical telling of the story it feels so authentic. I look forward to their next collaboration.

Supporting the excellent cast is a group of 10  musicians, seven of whom come on stage for an encore after the show. Playing Celtic influenced instruments, as appropriate for the locals, they were joyful to see and hear. The off-stage drummer joined the rapturous applause carrying his drumsticks to show why he belonged on stage. Any group led by Musical Director Michael Tyack is always going to be of the highest quality. Choreographer Kelly Devine, a multi-award winner has trained this troupe of non-dancing looking actors into a tight ensemble. Brilliant.

Of course, such an intense production can’t happen without an excellent director. Another multi-award winner, Christopher Ashley, had won a Tony for his work on Broadway for “Come from Away”  No wonder.

Finally, I am not normally a fan of glossy programs. Four black and white pages are more than enough for me. But this program is so different, helping to put all the historical information about Gander, its airport and the 5 days from September 11th to the 16th into full context.  This show is highly recommended and suitable for children who can understand what happened on 9/11 to every age group.

5 Stars




One Response to “Come from Away: a musical review by Victor Grynberg”
  1. Milton Caine says:

    My wife and I went to this program and we loved it so much as it told a story so well and a story not so well known.

    I listen to the sound track in my car often a brilliant production


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