COME FROM AWAY – Book, Lyrics and Music by Irene Sankoff and David Hein; Directed by Christopher Ashley. Presented by Denver Center for the Performing Arts Broadway (Buell Theatre, 14th and Curtis, Denver) through November 25. Tickets available at 303/893-4100 or denvercenter.org.
This show starts off with a bang with “Welcome to the Rock” (meaning Newfoundland) and never slows down for the ninety or so minutes it takes to tell their story. The opening number introduces us to the inhabitants of the Rock and deftly displays their down home character. The cast is made up of ordinary looking (but vastly talented) people of all ages, reminding the audience that they are playing real people reacting in the way real people actually behave.
The “incident” that forced 38 planes to unexpectedly divert to Gander Airport is referenced only obliquely. We know the people on the ground would have cared for the passengers no matter what the reason. But suddenly these ordinary people are drawn into Operation Yellow Ribbon and tasked with caring for 7000 stranded passengers – nearly as many as the entire population of the island. Food was provided along with diapers, clothes, beds, showers, TV’s to follow the happenings in the States, companionship and whisky . . . lots of whisky. The passengers were warned that there was something in the water, so they should just drink the beer.
For five days the passengers were in limbo; for five days the Newfoundlanders remained unflaggingly welcoming. Friendships were forged; romance blossomed; news leaked back to them slowly from New York, causing new fears. In the end, it is a story of kindness and humanity told with humor and grace.
This is a tight ensemble with the small cast alternating between inhabitants and passengers with a change of a hat, scarf or jacket. This was done with such clarity that there is no confusion. Subtle differences in accent, language, posture and facial expression keep the story straight. There are no star turns among the cast; each player has two or three strong characters to bring to life. “Well oiled machine” is the phrase that comes to mind, but there is nothing mechanical about this cast that performs with humanity and heart. They are having a good time telling this story and it shows.
There is a strong Irish influence to the music and mentality. Newfoundland, as the easternmost point of North America, was the landing spot for thousands of Irish immigrants who either stayed to work the fisheries or delayed on a journey to the mainland. The composers incorporated small accordions, Irish flutes and pipes, and Bodhran drums into the arrangements.
The set consisted mostly of a series of mismatched chairs which when lined up, became the seats in the airplane cabin. When separated, became the donut shop, the bar, and every other locale needed for the story telling. A backdrop changed with the lighting to become the sky, the sea and the side of the airplane.
Because of the simple staging and joyful message, two or three years from now, every regional theatre in the country will be lining up to perform this show. But you don’t have to wait; you can see the first Broadway tour of this satisfying musical right here in Denver through November 25th. This is a definite “Run – Don’t Walk” to get your ticket.
A WOW factor of 10!