THE BASICS: COME FROM AWAY, a touring production of the Broadway musical presented by Shea’s and Albert Nocciolino opened on October 15 and runs through October 20, Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30, Friday at 8, Saturday at 2 and 8, and Sunday at 1 and 7 at Shea’s Performing Arts Center, 646 Main Street (1-800-745-3000). www.sheas.org Runtime: 100 minutes without intermission
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: On September 11, 2001 following the terrorist attacks, U.S. airspace was closed and 38 planes were diverted to the small Canadian town of Gander, Newfoundland which used to be a major refueling stop for cross-Atlantic flights and still had an enormous airfield that, fortunately, had never been decommissioned or destroyed. And so, thousands of air passengers, from many countries, cultures, and religions, who had no idea what was happening or where they were, tired, scared, confused, distrustful, and having been confined to their airplanes for over 24 hours, were housed, fed, and welcomed by the folks of Gander. Based on actual stories and told to the accompaniment of Celtic-inspired music, this fast-paced swirling musical with 6 women and 6 men playing multiple roles takes us into the hearts and minds of both Newfoundlanders and passengers who, in the end, become fast friends.
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: COME FROM AWAY is different from many musicals in that, while it does have fifteen musical numbers, they blend together seamlessly so that the 100 minutes flow together, and you laugh, and cry, and applaud in one continuous experience. Eight musicians, slightly visible to your right, play a few electrics but it’s mostly traditional Irish with such instruments as the Uilleann Pipes, the Irish Flute, Fiddle, and Bodhran (drum). If you enjoyed the musical ONCE you will love COME FROM AWAY which is, in my opinion, much better.
Several friends have asked me how the U.S. tour compares to the Toronto version at the Elgin Centre where I saw COME FROM AWAY last spring. First off, if you’ve never seen this musical, just get a ticket wherever it’s playing because it is unique, and it’s “authentic” in that it’s the creation of a Canadian married couple – Irene Sankoff and David Hein – based on true stories of 9/11.
I would say that the Toronto production made me more sympathetic to the Gander residents and the U.S. touring production made me more sympathetic to the plight of the passengers. It’s not the first time I’ve experienced the same show differently depending on venue. Several years ago I saw the melodrama AN OCTOROON, about American slavery, at the Canadian Shaw Festival, and then several months later, in the U.S., at the Chautauqua Institution. Watching that play, on American soil, in the nation where the problem of slavery still haunts us, affected me quite differently than watching it “at arm’s length” in Canada. And so it was with COME FROM AWAY.
There were two notable on-stage differences as well. I thought the Canadian actors made the shift from their native accent to “Gander-ese” more elegantly than U.S. actors who seemed to force it a bit the way Buffalonians imitate Canadians by adding “eh” to sentences or saying “aboot” for “about.” Also, the sound at the Elgin is impeccable, with every line of dialog and every lyric understandable. At Shea’s, where touring companies have to load in and quickly match their sound equipment to our local space, that was not always the case on opening night, with some solos and many group numbers.
Not since HAMILTON have I seen an entire Shea’s audience leave the theater in such an upbeat happy mood.
But those quibbles aside, the show is mighty impressive as it grabs you in the first few seconds and then weaves together dozens of stories of people of different backgrounds, of cultures, birthplaces, habits, sexual orientations, races, genders, personalities, etc. into the one glorious celebration. Not since HAMILTON have I seen an entire Shea’s audience leave the theater in such an upbeat happy mood.
UP NEXT: Currently at Shea’s 710 Theatre Road Less Traveled Productions is running SUPERIOR DONUTS through October 27. At Shea’s Smith Theatre (next door to the mainstage) Second Generation presents TOXIC AVENGER (October 25 – November 10). And on the Main Stage, next up is JERSEY BOYS (November 15-17).
Photos courtesy Shea’s
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!