‘Tis the season to fill theaters with feel good productions, or so the masters of theater scheduling reason. We curmudgeons may grumble and skip our 47th Nutcracker. Or we may suck it up and take a youngster or a visiting fireman to one of the better ones. Such is “Come From Away.”
Of course you remember 9/11; and you probably recall that
American airspace was closed for an indeterminate amount of time. You may not recall that 38 in-bound planes from across the Atlantic were forced to land in Newfoundland, in a small town with a huge airport. The hospitality of the locals was momentarily legendary. What puts “Come From Away” in the category of “one of the better ones” is that its writers, Irene Sankoff and David Hein did their homework. They visited the community, took their time, interviewed locals as well as former passengers, and wrote the cranky moments and discomfort into what is mostly a feel-good script.
On the one hand the toe tapping music is derivative – I challenge you to hum even one passage after you leave the theater. On the other hand, your toes will tap and the actors do an energetic job of singing and dancing to the excellent ensemble of musicians sharing the stage. It is loud – unnecessarily so – and it screams Broadway musical. “Come From Away” has been compared to “Momma Mia” for its exuberance, but really, could anyone walk out of “Momma Mia” without the eponymous song playing in his head? That will not happen here.
“Come From Away” won best stage direction for Christopher Ashley. The set is largely made up of about a dozen mismatched chairs that are continuously reconfigured as a plane, a bus, a bar – you name it. The actors too portray multiple roles, mostly successfully. Standouts are Nick Duckart and Andrew Samonsky as a gay couple, both of whom are named Kevin. Julie Johnson is Beulah, the organized and quietly empathic school teacher to Hannah, Danielle K. Thomas, the passenger who realizes her firefighter son is probably one of the first responders at the twin towers. Sadly Becky Gulsvig mostly screeches the part of Beverly, the pilot.
If you are looking for light amusement “Come From Away” might be just your ticket. You can safely take kids and out-of-towners. The opening night audience, peppered with friends and family, certainly enjoyed it. If you are looking for something with more meat on its bones, I hear “The King and I” production recently at Lincoln Center is going to be available on film. You will come out of that not sure which song to sing first. Or you can wait until the season passes for some stronger fare.