THE HEARTS OF THE PEOPLE OF GANDER IS AN UPLIFTING STORY THAT SHINES BRIGHT ON DARK TIMES
The topic of 9/11 is not an easy story to bring to the musical stage. I hesitated on the story line only for a moment. COME FROM AWAY celebrates humanity acts of kindness, and this is the best time for this kind of musical. In the dark shadows of a tragedy COME FROM AWAY tells a hopeful, real story about the small Canadian town that hosted 38 jets and plans in the aftermath of 9/11. COME FROM AWAY is now on stage at the SHN Golden Gate stage only through February 3rd as a stop on its first national tour. The true story is that rare gem that steals your heart with a spellbinding ensemble cast, one that allows every member of its dozen strong cast a chance to shine, while also being dependent its moving parts to drive home its poignant life affirming message.
Book, music and lyrics developed by Tony and Grammy nominees Irene Sankoff and David Hein. The Musical is directed by Tony winner Christopher Ashley (who was in NY during the 9/11 attacks). The 100 minutes performance is staged by two-time Tony nominee Kelly Devine with music supervision by Grammy nominee Ian Eisendrath, scenic design by Beowulf Boritt and costumes design by Toni-Leslie James and lighting design by two-time Tony winner Howell Binkley, orchestrations by August Eriksmoen (Bright Star), music arrangements by Grammy nominee Ian Eisendrath. COME FROM AWAY tells the remarkable true story of 6,700 stranded passengers and the small town in Newfoundland that welcomed them. Cultures clashed and gratitude grew into enduring unforgettable friendships.
Director Christopher Ashley’s terrific, Tony Award honored direction is on a sparse set of tall trees and furniture that doubles for plane interior, a diner and town hall. The show opens with one of the many anthem songs “Welcome to the Rock” and the company goes on to explain their new visitors in the in the number “38 Planes”. This 12 member company is a power house on stage and will bring you to cheers and tears in a score by Sankoff and Hein. “Blankets and Bedding” clearly brings home the topic of a town who stopped everything to care for these new friends stranded in their town.
The dozen cast members play multiple roles, often tearing off sport coats, hats and vests mid-scene to change from a local TV reporter or town cop to a stressed confused passenger and back again. It’s difficult to pick a standout as they all operate at such a perfect high level throughout the musical. Becky Gulsvig’s Beverley is inspiring in the emotional song “Me and the Sky” that tells of her dreams to be an airline pilot. The 12 actors fill the stage full of the rich and complex sound of the 6,700 people who doubled this town’s population in shadow of 9/11.
The cast members alternate as town characters and “come from aways” as their visitors and new friends. This is a 9/11 story that conveys the real story that unfolds from the morning of the airplane attacks that killed 3,000 people. The five days that follow the town of Gander that welcomed more than 6,700 lost passengers and airline crew members. The community came together to provide meals, beverages, diapers and love in just hours.
The story and songs are drawn from interviews Hein and Sankoff conducted at the tenth reunion of the Ganderites and some of their 9/11 guests, the show’s book and score give powerful chorus to the local Canadians at their local coffee shop, and a cross section of travelers-- gay, straight, black, white, Jewish, Christian and Muslim. There’s much love and humor here. In the song “On the Edge” the coffee shop folk sing “some of the plane people haven’t slept in three days, none of us have either, and we are jumping out of our own shadow, on the edge of the world”.
Ganderites are selfless, take charge and are generous like Beulah played by Julie Johnson who is flawless. The real, never say no Gander mayor Claude played by the dapper Kevin Carolan holds the story together as the narrator. The animal lover Bonnie who made sure all the traveling pets were cared for is played by the superb Megan McGinnis. The animals included a rare and pregnant monkey. They all respond how most caring people should respond to others in a time of crisis, but don’t. We have seen of late in the destructive tropical storms in Florida and Puerto Rico were many reached out to people who needed assistance.
The real people the musical is based on
The music is unforgettable and is the enthusiastic force in this story conducted by Cynthia Kortman Westphal. The wonderful musicians play folk instruments like the Irish flute, fiddle, and bodhran are nestled in the corners of the stage, in the audience’s sight lines and the amazing Christina Owens is on fiddle as she walks on stage throughout the musical. The score, which draws on Newfoundland’s music traditions, is festive and brings the audience to their feet. It did remind me of the open heart of ONCE the musical, but its essence is timeless as the generosity of this true story fills your heart.
COME FROM AWAY has a humbleness that brings tears to anyone seeing this musical. This is an extremely strong, deeply powerful, true story about real inspirational people. The fact that it’s true only makes this a MUST SEE. The opening night audience and crowds since stand before the cast comes out for their bows as the band comes downstage and the audience dances in their seats. Next up from SHN is the huge remounting of HAMILTON at their Orpheum stage. This new cast of HAMILTON is fresh from Puerto Rico and after two weeks of previews, the company hopes to stay in San Francisco for many months. But in the meantime it is important to see COME FROM AWAY, its is a moving theatrical experience, and SHN is offering $40.00 rush seats through TodayTix.com day of show.
La Jolla Playhouse, Seattle Rep Theatre and SHN Present
Come from Away
Book and Lyrics by
Irene Sankoff & David Hein
Directed by Christopher Ashley
Music Staging Kelly Devine, Conductor Cynthia Kortman Westphal
MUST CLOSE FEBRUARY 3rd
SHN Golden Gate Theatre
1 Taylor Street, San Francisco.
ONE HOUR 40 MIN
Tickets are available at https://www.shnsf.com
Photos by Joan Marcus
This Canadian Town Welcomed In Stranded Passengers - The story of Gander, Newfoundland
Meet the Production team of COME FROM AWAY