In my book, getting chills during an opening number at the theatre is a good sign, especially when you’re watching a new musical. And yes, even during a pandemic!
Come From Away, presented by Broadway in Richmond and playing at Altria Theater now through February 6, is based on a true story of a group of Canadians and their humanitarian response in the days following September 11.
In 2001, when American airspace closed, thirty-eight planes from airlines around the world were ordered to land unexpectedly at Gander International Airport. That’s when the residents of Gander, a tiny town located in the northeastern part of the island of Newfoundland in the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador, sprang into action to house, feed, clothe, and generally console nearly 7,000 stranded travelers who had come from all over the world – that is to say, from away.
We had no idea what to expect, but from the moment Come From Away began, I had the feeling we were in for something extraordinary in this musical written by Tony nominees Irene Sankoff and David Hein, and helmed by Tony-winning best director Christopher Ashley.
Glancing sideways at my date for this show, my daughter – who was just shy of her first birthday when the events of September 11 changed the world forever – I started working on my list of reasons everyone should see this breathtaking new musical.
Because it’s intensely and energetically moving – and pretty darn funny. During Come From Away, you’ll go from belly laughing one minute to doing whatever you can to hold back tears the next. The retelling of this story onstage transports you back in time to September 11, 2001, and to Newfoundland, Canada – which is quite different than how you experienced this world-changing event in real life decades ago.
Because you don’t need to be familiar with the music or the plot to understand it and connect with it. As the head of a musical theatre-loving family, this is important because when my children were younger, we spent months listening to new music before seeing a show. That is not necessary here. From the heart-pounding opening number “Welcome to the Rock” to the mournful yet hope-filled “Prayer” midway through the show to “Somewhere in the World” near its send, every song is there to supports the message and vision of the show.
Because the ensemble cast delivers every song like it’s the most important number in the show. From start to finish, you’ll enjoy pitch perfect solo performances, punctuated with seemingly effortless harmonies and duets that perfectly blend voices from characters. And not a single song feels too long or out of place. The acting is superb, too, with standout performances from Jeremy Woodard (as Kevin T., Garth, and others) and Christine Toy Johnson (as Diane and others). Read about Johnson in this article from Joan Tupponce.
James Earl Jones II (as Bob and others) deserves a special shout-out for his acting work, as does Becky Gulsvig as Beverley, one of the pilots whose plane was diverted to Gander and the first woman to serve as captain on an American Airlines commercial flight.
Because the staging is rich and creative, and the music and orchestration is a big part of the production. The play asks you to rely on your imagination as you make your way through the story with the folksy hometown characters of Gander and the stranded travelers. The actors, who switch effortlessly back and forth in their roles, take you everywhere you need to go in the community – from an elementary school where 600 strangers are having a sleepover to a scenic overlook where new love is professed. The eight-member strong band, lead by music director Cameron Moncur, periodically pops into the action. If you stay until the very end (while the crowd thins), you’ll be rewarded with a musical treat.
Because the people onstage are as real as you, me, your neighbor, your daughter’s teacher, your animal-loving best friend… The play tells the story of everyday, small-town folks pitching in to make life a little more manageable for everyday people they’ve never met. The cast of this show embodies that vibe perfectly. If you’re like me, the whole time you’re watching it, you’ll toggle from actually wanting to be in the show to casting people you know who would be perfect in the production.
Because it shares a lesson for the ages without beating you over the head with it. We’re living through a uniquely complicated time right now. Traveling back in time to September 11 and watching this story onstage helps put things into perspective. Even as you’re wearing masks, even as you’re thinking about how the woman in line behind you forgot her license and had to run back to her car, you can see and understand that despite this horrific thing that happened more than twenty years ago, humanity is recovering. This story reminds you of the good in the world and brings it to life onstage, much to the delight of your eyes and ears.
And finally, because it’s short-ish and doesn’t have an intermission. The show runs a little over an hour-and-a-half. At no point do you find yourself wishing it would end. I’m not sure if Come From Away was originally produced like this or if it’s a pandemic precaution, but I like it. No intermission means no awkward climbing over your seat neighbor who doesn’t want to stretch her legs or waiting in line for the bathroom (which admittedly is not the problem it used to be at Altria, but still?)
Believe it or not, this is a partial list of my reasons you should see Broadway in Richmond’s Come From Away. If you’re interested in seeing the show with your children (like I did), it’s recommended for ages ten and up. With eight performances in total, including two shows on Saturday and Sunday, February 5 and 6, tickets for Come From Away range from $33.50 to $83.50. Student rush tickets are available for $25. Visit the Altria box office for details about a $25 student ticket. Some restrictions may apply.
For showtimes, tickets, and safety protocol related to the pandemic, visit Broadway in Richmond.