What an emotional day, evening, weekend. So it seemed utterly relevant and important to take in and land on the streaming of Broadway’s most beautiful musical ode to 9/11, Come From Away last night, with special thanks to Apple TV Plus. This viewing must have been the fourth time that I watched this magnificent show, and, honestly, I cried just as much (or more) as the first time I saw it at David Mirvish’s Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto over the Christmas holidays of 2016. The second and third were on Broadway with out-of-town friends. I must also admit that I was equally as excited to see it again last night as I was when it first came to Broadway in 2017 (it’s returning to Broadway this September 21, 2021). The filming of this critical and financially successful Broadway musical is simply perfection, performed miraculously live at Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre for an audience that included 9/11 survivors, front-line workers, and their family and friends, while also featuring the entire original cast, including the dynamic Jenn Colella, who earned a Tony nomination for Best Actress in a Musical.
Come From Away, which received seven 2017 Tony nominations including Best Musical, and a much deserved win for Best Direction of a Musical, is a joy to behold, especially on the night before this historic day. The show was definitely one of my favorite new musicals of that year, and I talked it up to the skies to anyone who would listen. When I spoke of the show to someone who didn’t know it is about 9/11, their first reaction was usually shock; shock that a musical could or would be written about such a horrifying day, but their fears were unjustified. The genius Canadian writing team of Irene Sankoff and David Hein (Book, Music, and Lyrics) found their way, navigating a potentially dangerous terrain while creating an astonishingly beautiful, respectful, and complicated emotional version of that day and that week, all through the eyes of the true-to-life residents of a small town in Newfoundland and the “plane-people” who were stranded there.
Come From Away, the commercial and critical Broadway success story has happily found a new home on Apple TV Plus. Filmed in front of a live audience, this very specific and wonderful story of that infamous horrible day is as refreshing and warm as it was live on stage. The very humane tale streaming out to the world still solidly shoves a lump into your throat, with tears of love and compassion running down your cheeks. But not only is it tender and warm, it also finds a way to install a big grin on your face for the love and joy it radiates outward. Not once does the show mention ‘World Trade Center’, nor do they resort to images or descriptives that will upset, which I am grateful for. Somehow, this writing team does what one would think would be impossible, it lands the most musically loving story centered around one of the most horrific tragic day in our history in the most humanly kind way possible. A magnificent feat if there ever was one.
The first few moments of this show deliver a truth that is perfection. Ask anyone where they were on that terrible day in history, no matter where they were living in this big wide world, most remember, and will tell you their story. I have one as well; standing on the corner of 26th Street and Broadway on that stunningly beautiful September morning in between client appointments, watching with others on that sidewalk as the world changed before our very eyes. It’s a moment that still makes me shudder. This 100 minute one-act musical, with the filming produced and financed by Entertainment One, and directed impeccably by Christopher Ashley (Memphis, Xanadu, Leap of Faith), tells the story of the townsfolk of Gander, Newfoundland and how their generous and giving spirit changed the lives of thousands, and in turn, millions. On that historic September 11th morning, the residents wake to a beautiful yet typical day, drinking coffee at Tim Horton’s, and arguing over the normal affairs of a small town. “Welcome to the Rock” is exactly the right first step. It sets the stage of this very Canadian Maritime story, perfectly showcasing the talented company of actors, who work seamlessly as a strong unified force of nature, just like their real-life counterparts did that very day.
As the tragic news roll through the town, it becomes clear that this small town with one very large airport (dating back to a time when planes had to refuel before crossing the ocean), is going to be dramatically called into action in a way that they could never have anticipated. The town and the airport are about to play host to 38 large planes that were on their way to North American when all the airports and the air space in the States were shut down. The population of Gander, they soon realize, is about to double in size within hours, and the residents are going to have to figure out a way to accommodate this surge. It’s really a monumental construct, if you really think about it, and what this musical does so well is give us numerous different angles to showcase just how spectacular this town delivers care to all of these new arrivals that have ‘Come From Away.’ And how they find their way through, interact, and cope with every aspect of this difficult complex situation. It’s powerful and enlightening, in a way that is unexpected, warm, detailed, and utterly glorious.
The crew of actors truly show us what it means to be a world-class ensemble. There is no lead or star here. Each actor has one or two important roles to inhabit, which they all do magnificently, with a great sense of detail and humor. Each time I think of one actor to shine a brilliant light on, I think of another that is just as wondrous, engaging, and ever so real. Astrid Van Wieren as Beulah, one of the Gander residents, and Q Smith as Hannah, one of the passengers, are spectacular, creating one of the most touching and authentic bonds of care and love in the show. Even writing about it now causes that lump in my throat to return. Jenn Colella as one of the pilots (Annette/Beverly and others) has the best, most beautifully engaging solo, “Me and the Sky“, that is quite the show stopper, mainly because it speaks of the power and simple beauty of a woman changing the rules against all odds. Jim Walton as the English passenger, Nick, and Sharon Wheatley as the Texan, Diane, are possibly the only other cast members who actually get anything close to a song of their own, with the touching and tender “Stop the World“. But I wouldn’t say that they had any more of a focus then the others: Paul Whitty (Oz and others), Joel Hatch (Claude and others), De’Lon Grant (Bob and others), Emily Walton (Janice and others), Tony LePage (Garth/Kevin T. and others), Caesar Samayoa (Ali/Kevin J. and others), and Petrina Bromley (Bonnie and others). Each have magnificently funny and poignant moments of their own, filled with pain, love, humor, fear, engagement, and about every other emotional scenario that one could imagine. I could list a moment of true engagement for each and every one of this group, but I’m going to let you be as surprised with delight as I was (but the one that starts out as a hymn is so beautiful in style and content that it still stays with me). (And that BBQ grill story is pretty much as perfect a moment as one could hope for. It’s about one small moment of restructuring, that means something so much more, especially these days.)
Special thanks has to go out to Jennifer Todd and Bill Condon, who produced this filming alongside the original stage producers, Junkyard Dog Productions, as well as Mark Gordon. Brittany Hapner served as a co-producer. Irene Sankoff and David Hein, who wrote the stage show, also served as executive producers alongside Radical Media’s Jon Kamen, Dave Sirulnick and Meredith Bennett. The beautifully staging as filmed here by Radical Media is as strong as I remembered, thanks to the creative team made up of Beowulf Boritt (scenic design), Toni-Leslie James (costume design), Howell Binkley (lighting design), Gareth Owen (Sound Design), August Eriksmoen (orchestrations), Ian Eisendrath (musical supervision and arrangements), and musical staging (choreography) by the wonderful Kelly Devine.
The story is sure to pull at all of our collective emotional heartstrings from beginning to end. It engages on so many levels, somehow with an ease that is heartwarming. Come From Away is one of the most singularly engaging musicals to come to the stage and to Apple TV Plus. It’s such a Canadian story, as well as a universal and global one. Musically, it’s gorgeous and sumptuous; so Newfoundlander, perfectly performed by an uber-talented band, one that we are more than thankful for at the curtain call when they can truly shine their light center stage. The moment, and the whole show carries a universal dose of humanity and warmth about a moment in time when these emotions were needed the most. I’m thrilled that Come From Away has landed here for the world to see on Apple TV Plus, and glad there was no delays or cancellations. Each and every time that I will stream it, which will likely be many, it will receive a hero’s welcome from me, mainly because as it shines bright with such a loving humanity, an unselfish generosity, and strong dose of tender care. A few things that feel in short supply these troubling days, twenty years after that traumatic day.
Stream it now on Apple TV Plus, and if you’re interested in seeing the musical in person, Come From Away will return to Broadway on September 21, and is currently playing on London’s West End.
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