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A CurtainUp Review
Come From Away
By Elyse Sommer
There's no shortage of foot-tapping songs, all fifteen of which are mostly sung by the entire exuberant cast, with the Celtic folk flavor vigorously accompanied by the unusual instruments of the 8-piece on-stage band. But what really carried this musical from Canada to Broadway is the upbeat true story that inspired it.
This ode to kindness has landed in New York just when we're desperate for anything to give us hope that this country hasn't abandoned its core values. It's the story of how the innate decency of a small Canadian community escalated and rubbed off on strangers "from far away." The fact that it's based on actual events in turn escalates the show's feel-good factor.
It's too bad that Ivanka Trump didn't bring her dad to the performance she attended a night before I did. But while this First Daughter made a showing of her own commitment to cultural activities other than TV reality shows and social media tweeting, her dad was pulling out his pen to sign a budget that will destroy the National Endowment of the Arts.
Hopefully, seeing the crowd at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre forgetting the downbeat body politics long enough to lap up this upbeat musical, sent Ivanka rushing back to the White House to persuade her dad to reconsider his job, environment and culture killing decisions.
Here's hoping against hope that it's not just Ivanka's looks that count with Daddy President. In the meantime, there's certainly plenty to admire about Come From Away and to help us forget the decidedly unkind state of our union for at least a hundred minutes.
The show has enough songs to make Come From Away feel like a sung-through musical. Its Gaelic folk flavored rhythms are sung well by the exuberant cast and are accompanied a small on stage band that features some instruments that perfectly enhance that folksy flavor. (See production notes for details).
Director Christopher Ashley has done a masterful job of insuring that the twelve actors fluidly shift back and forth between their multiple roles as people from of the stranded planes and the town that must deal with suddenly almost doubling its population. Beowulf Borritt has designed an unfussy but remarkably effective set. It consists primarily of chairs and tables on a rotating floor and with a woodsy back wall that at one point doubles as the airplane with a door from which the passengers descend.
Lighting and costume designers Howard Binkley and Toni-Leslie James abet the on-a-dime persona and scene shifts. Binkley's lighting is especially effective in transporting us from the Ganderians' opening to the interior of the plane that's preparing for the emergency landing.
The producers deserve credit for not relying on ticket selling name casting (the long legged, golden voiced Jenn Colella, Joel Hatch and Chad Kimball are the only the actors with multiple Broadway credentials). Instead they've focused on putting actors who look like real people on stage.
I lost count of all the characters taken on by the dozen actors. Whatever the total, they are a composite of the writers' interviews with residents and passengers. Thus, some of the chief locals include the mayor (Joel Hatch), a TV reporter new to the job (Kendra Kessebaum, an actual Newfoundlander) and an animal care activist (Petrina Bromley).
Leading the plane's characters, and one of the few characters who gets to sing a solo, is Jenn Colella as the pilot (unsurprisingly she is an American Airlines pilot since they're credited as Partners). There's also a gay couple, both amusingly named Kevin (Chad Kimball and Caesar Samayoa), a New Yorker (Rodney Hicks) who will leave Gander less cynical than when he came . . .and, for romantic interest we have a middle-aged Texan and Brit (Sharon Wheatley and Lee MacDougall).
With the emphasis on providing a feel-good experience, the character who won't quite let us get caught up in the foot-stamping fun, is Hannah (Q. Smith) the anxious mother of a New York fire fighter. Though she does get one of the other solos ("I Am Here"), her fears prove all too valid.
The resourceful staging and non-stop energy of the performers accomplishes its intent, from the scene setting "Welcome to the Rock" to the penultimate 9/11-aware "Something is Missing." Unfortunately, there are more than a few things missing in terms of Come From Away's qualifying as a Class A musical.
It makes sense for the book to be a composite of a much larger number of planes and people involved in the actual events. The multi-tasking actors support their representing a community spirit. However, despite the smart direction and excellent work of the cast, none of the characters really make strong, individual impressions. While I'm quibbling, the music is catchy but repetitive and so abrasively loud that it's hard hear the lyrics — which may be for the best since they're not especially memorable or cleverly rhymed.
I couldn't help remembering The Band's Visit a more satisfying recent musical that also told the story of a small town finding itself host to a group of strangers who were bound for another destination. This was a smaller, more intimate story and without a link to a catastrophic real event, but it allowed its characters to be more fully developed and also featured more memorable music and lyrics.
To get back to the more ambitious Come Away From, I'll retract all my quibbles if it gets Ivanka Trump to successfully get daddy to ease up on his draconian budget cuts of arts entitlements.
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Come From Away
Bok, music and lyrics by Irene Sankoff & David Hein
Directed by Christopher Ashley
Choreographed by Kelly Devine
Music supervision by Ian Eisendrath.
Cast: Petrina Bromley; Geno Carr; Jenn Colella; Joel Hatch; Rodney Hicks; Kendra Kassebaum; Chad Kimball; Lee MacDougall; Caesar Samayoa; Q. Smith; Astrid Van Wieren; Sharon Wheatley; Josh Breckenridge; Susan Dunstan; Tamika Lawrence and Tony LePage.
Scenic design by Beowulf Boritt
Costume design by Toni-Leslie James
Lighting design by Howell Binkley
Sound design by Gareth Owen
Orchestrations by August Eriksmoen
Band: Keyboard/Accordion/Harmonium -Conductor/Arranger Ian Eisendrath; Whistles/Irish Flute/Uilleann Pipes - Ben Power; Fiddle- Caitlin Warbelow; Electric/Acoustic Guitars- Alec Berlin; Acoustic Guitar/Mandolins/Bouzouki- Nate Lueck; Electric/Acoustic Bass- Carl Carter; Bodhran/Percussion- Romano Di Nillo; Drums/Percussion- Larry Lelli
Stage Manager: Gary Mickelson
Running Time: 1 hour and 40 minutes
Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre 236 West 45th Street 212.239.6200
From 2/18/17; opening 3/12/17; closing 12/30/17.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at March 16th press performance
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