Come From Away
The other day, I saw the stage musical Come From Away, which is playing in Los Angeles at the Ahmanson Theater. This is the show based on the true story about the small town of 9,000 people in Newfoundland who dealt openly and graciously with the 38 planes and 7,000 passengers that were forced to land there on 9/11. It had a great reputation -- winning the Tony Award for Best Direction, getting seven Tony nominations, and winning the Drama Desk Award as Best Musical. But it wasn't a show that struck me as something to rush out to see.
A friend who had seen the show in New York suggested otherwise, so I took her advice. Smart me, wise friend with great taste. (And another friend who'd seen it on Broadway told me the day before I went that she was sure I'd like it.)
They were absolutely right. It was tremendous. There are 12 actors who play about 100-150 characters. (I’m not exaggerating.) It may be the first “non-stop musical” I’ve seen. The first number – which grabbed me by the throat and heart half-way in – starts when the curtain rises at level nine, and it keeps that pace to the end, an hour and 40 minutes with no intermission. It's a whirling dervish of an emotional, wonderful show. And it's magnificently directed on an almost bare stage. That it won the Tony for Best Director despite not winning for Best Musical (which that year was Dear Evan Hanson, which I saw about a month ago) speaks loudly to me saying how remarkable the direction is.
The book, music and lyrics are written by a Canadian team Irene Sankoff and David Hein, who went up to the town of Gander, Newfoundland -- known as "The Rock" -- for the 10th anniversary of the event, not having any idea what to expect. They ended up interviewing locals and returning visitors (who had "Come from away," the local name for foreigners) and the book overwhelms with a sense of that reality. The score is not remotely memorable, just a couple of songs stand out ("Welcome to the Rock" and "Me and the Sky," sung by a pilot, 'Beverly,' telling her story, which is moving all on its own, since the person it's based on, Beverly Bass, is a real-life pioneer, only the third female pilot hired by American Airlines in 1976, and pilot of the first all-female flight crew). In fact, at first I found the score -- interesting though it was -- a bit distracting because the book and dialogue scenes are so good. But as the show went on, the effectiveness of the score grew, as I saw better what they were doing, and ultimately I found the score extremely good, adding to the vibrance and vitality of the show, and it compliments everything so well.
(Fun, too, is that a few times during the evening, the small six-piece band, or thereabouts -- which is on stage, although off to the side in the wings -- gets to participate in the action, and joyously so . They even get their own curtain call, after the cast has left and lead the audience in a foot-stomping, hand-clapping, rousing number.
As fun as Come From Away is (and often very funny), it is at its core a thoughtful, serious drama that is filled with emotion, sadness, twists and a sense of the utter, stunning decency of Man. Or at least this town. In the program, it notes that Newfoundland and Labrador were named "one of the top 10 friendliest cultures in the world" by MacLean's magazine. It seems like an odd distinction when you read that before the show -- it is utterly understandable afterwards. It's also near-impossible to watch the show and periodically through the evening not contrast all this decency towards one's fellow man with news today from certain corners.
I rarely give standing ovations. When for too many years now people in Los Angeles (and a growing number of places) do so for anything they like, it diminishes the point of honoring excellence that's far above the norm. For this, I was on my feet five seconds into the curtain call. And you could tell that the audience this time actually meant it, too. In fact, two-thirds of the way through I thought to myself that if this had been like a movie and there was another showing right after, I'd have stayed to see it again.
If you live in Los Angeles, do yourself a favor and see the show. But know that it closes January 6. It’s really wonderful. You can get tickets here.
There is no video clip that can do the show justice because, as I noted, this is a non-stop, whirling dervish of a show that soars for 100 minutes until the curtain drops. But this is that opening number I referred to that gives a sense of things, though without the pounding sound of the foot stomping and idea of urgency and warmth you feel in the theater. Also, alas, it's not the full number, but a very-trimmed down 90-second version. But this is at least how the show begins the moment the curtain goes up. It's is the starting level of the show, and keeps going at this vibrancy until the last note of the evening..
And now a bonus update:
I'm going to keep the above video because it's the original cast, but five months after posting the above I came across a video of the full opening number performed at this year's Olivier Awards -- which is the British version of the Tony Awards. (Oddly, having by now seen full show and watched a ton of videos of the musical and stories about the history, only a few of the actors get the Gander, Newfoundland accent right -- notably the first performer you'll see -- many of the others sliding a bit into Scottish or Irish, but still it's a joy.) Oh, and as a side note, the show won the 2019 Oliver Award as Best Musical!! Hey, I tries nots to steer ya wrong...
Here 'tis --
2/3/2019 06:07:45 pm
2/4/2019 11:55:44 am
Dr. Buzz, I told you so! I told you so! I don't rave too often, but when I do, it's with meaning. No, our taste in theater -- while definitely similar -- does not always converge. But clearly it did here. Yes, as you've now seen, it's that good. That you think my glowing rave UNDERsold it speaks to its quality. And yes -- as I noted and you saw -- from the opening number the show grabs you, and it doesn't let up. And yes -- I've never seen an audience leap to its feet for a standing ovation at the end as quickly as this show gets. So, I'm not surprised that you had the same experience.
Leave a Reply.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
Feedspot Badge of Honor