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I knew I would love Come From Away the minute I heard of it. A heart-warming musical about the extraordinary good in ordinary acts of humanity, for a cheese-ball like me, is really the whole package.
When the 9/11 attacks closed US airspace, 38 planes carrying 6,579 people were forced to land in the tiny town of Gander, Newfoundland. They needed a place to stay, food to eat and a phone to call home, and through the generosity of Gander locals, they received all of this and so much more in the five days there were stranded.
The incredibly kind, sentimental stories – a store clerk inviting a ‘plane person’ to stay with them as they were purchasing their groceries, the Lion’s Club begging people to stop donating toilet paper (a particularly triggering plot point after the last two years) – are believable only because they are based on the experiences of people who were there.
At a snappy 100 minutes duration and with and a cast of only 12, Come From Away flies out onto the stage and into our hearts with a vitality and spirit that never lets up. Each cast member takes on multiple Newfoundlander and ‘come from awayer’ (visitor) characters, a structure well suited to the anecdotal story style. The cast change personas right before our eyes with just a change of jacket, prop or accent*.
* Fun game – see how many mayors you can count!
The tragedy and trauma of the events of 9/11 are irrepressibly present, cementing the story in time. My heart soared and ached simultaneously as I gained a great appreciation for the complex web of emotions and experiences the plane people must have gone through.
Come From Away is a hyper-focused story of people coming together in a tiny town, but remains mindful that this was not the experience of millions of Middle Eastern and Muslim people who faced immediate and widespread racism in the aftermath of the attacks. The character of Egyptian chef Ali tells this part of the story in some truly harrowing scenes, including being avoided by others, abused with racial slurs and strip searched. It’s an important element of the story and communicated fairly well considering the entire weight of it sits squarely on one single character, but given the larger dialogue on race relations happening in Australia and around the world there was potential to come on stronger in 2021.
The score of Come From Away is unique in the best possible way. Traditional Newfoundland folk and rockabilly music (“Heave Away,” “Screech In”) inject bolts of energy into the story and elevate the more traditional musical theatre numbers (“Me and the Sky,” “Stop the World”). It’s complemented by a set that follows the same minimalist principles of the cast; 12 chairs shoulder the burden of transporting us to a plane, a bar, a café and a shelter, which they do very convincingly through masterful musical staging.
Newfoundland will remind you of the obscure Aussie country town you return home from raving about their great little bakery, and watching people come together in a time of crisis with sandwiches, beers and fish is a delightful tonic to the too-often grim real world. It’s this humble familiarity and confidence in the power of a wholesome human story in the midst of tragedy that makes it worthy of the biggest and best stages in the world.
Wine Pairing | Chardonnay
In the early days, there were concerns that the overt ‘niceness’ and sentimentality of Come From Away wouldn’t be believable enough for audiences – but we know now that these unique characteristics were a huge factor in its success. Chardonnay, likewise, is a divisive wine, due to its pronounced oak flavour that differentiates from other white varietals – but when done well, it can’t be beaten!
My Pick: Ross Hill Pinnacle Series Chardonnay 2019
The Ross Hill Pinnacle Series Chardonnay boasts peach and melon notes, with a bit of nuttiness and spice thrown in for good measure. These intense flavours harmonise well with its acidity, and at 13.4% alcohol, it’s nothing short of heart-warming – making it perfect for a post-show chat about Come From Away.
Good chardonnay costs a bit more to do well. You’ll find this one for $33-40 at the bottle-o.
|Aussie Season||Capitol Theatre, Sydney|
20 Oct to 28 Nov 2021; Canberra Theatre. Canberra
3 Feb to 20 Feb 2022
|Writer||Irene Sankoff, David Hein|
|Theatre Type & Genre||Musical, drama, historical/biographical|
|See it if you like||heart-warming human stories, ‘based on a true story’ shows, minimalist sets that let you use your imagination, a good cry, laughing out loud|
|Other Info||Tony Award Best Direction of a Musical (2017), Olivier Awards Best New Musical, Outstanding Achievement in Music, Best Sound Design, Best Theatre Choreographer (2019)|
|Criteria for Wine Pairing||good balance of fruit flavours and acidity|