Come From Away is a rousing entertainment.
Come From Away is not a film. I’ll get that out of the way. It’s a live taping of the Great White North smash play that became the most successful Canadian musical in Broadway’s history. Away was nominated for seven Tony awards, including Best Musical. The live taping includes the original broadway cast, including Tony-nominated Jen Colella and director Christopher Ashley. For the live taping, the producing team of Jennifer Todd (Memento) and Bill Condon (Dreamgirls) were added. One would think this would give the recording instant credibility. And, for the most part, it does. The songs are fantastic. The cast is exceptional. It’s fabulous entertainment, being marketed as a film, even less so than last year’s Hamilton.
Come From Away is based on a true story of 38 flights being diverted to the remote location of Gander, Newfoundland, Canada, on 9/11/2001. The airport used to be bustling with planes decades prior. They used the location to refuel on long transatlantic flights. With the technology allowing for planes to travel with larger tanks, Gander International has hit hard times. They employ 14 air traffic controllers when they really need two or three. Over 7,000 people became stranded there and welcomed with open arms. Yes, Canadian hospitality is a real thing.
The musical’s name is derived from the name Newfoundlers give visitors, “come from aways” (this may be the worst nickname of all time). This was actually pulled from taped interviews with residents after the Great White North great migration. Created in Oakville, Ontario, the musical’s regional flair is still intact. With references to Tim Hortons, Roger’s Communication, and drinking Pepsis (I just wished they mentioned milk in a bag and ketchup chips).
What makes Come From Away work, as a play, is its capacity for empathy and putting a premium on the human connection. The film’s story is layered wonderfully by Irene Sankoff and David Hein. The plot, while telegraphed, sets you up for stirring emotions and poignant body blows. Younger viewers will wonder why everyone is so frantic to call their families when they can use their smartphones or slide into their family’s direct messages on social media. Someone will have to break it to them that these things were not as ubiquitous as they are today. Everyone was on edge. Information was scarce. And now these passengers are stuck in one of the most remote locations in North America.
Come From Away is really not your typical Broadway musical because of its authentic style. Anyone who remembers where they were during that terrible day will connect with the musical. Sankoff and Hein’s work encompasses all of those emotions. They showed you how, sometimes, one empathetic hand reaching to another is all we can do for one another. That’s all you can do. And all that is needed, eh?