Come From Away at the Ahmanson Theatre Review by: Keri Tombazian

December 4, 2018

By: Keri Tombazian

“Look for the helpers.  You will always find people who are helping.” Fred “Mister” Rogers

Where were you on 9/11? For a generation of Americans, the question might be phrased, “Where were you when the world as we knew it was ending.”  Yet, out of the endless accounts of heartache and loss emerges the true story of American Airlines Captain Beverly Bass, her crew and their passengers.  Mid-flight bound for Dallas, Texas from Paris, France when two planes slammed into the World Trade Center (and Flight 93 was bravely taken down in Pennsylvania) Bass, as well as hundreds of other pilots who were mid-air at the time, was diverted to the tiny town of Gander in Newfoundland, Canada. 

Come From Away playwrights Irene Sankoff and David Hein tell the story of how an act born of hate gave birth to an act of love. For one-hundred glorious minutes, in a triumph of realized concept, twelve remarkable actors cover all the parts, sing all the songs, and weave together the diverse stories of the townspeople, the airplane crew and passengers—often doing nothing more than donning a simple hat to cue their complete transformation from one character to another.  On the night of September 11th, 2001, the nine-thousand residents of Gander worked through the night preparing food and shelter for seven-thousand unexpected travelers of all nationalities—come from aways—who would be their guests until the United States reopened its airspace.  Having spent more than 24 hours confined to the plane, the frightened, weary passengers were greeted with food and clothes and kindness as they deplaned and welcomed into the hearts and homes of the people of Gander.

On the heels of the record-breaking run of Dear Evan Hansen it might seem to be an overstatement but Come From Away is one of the most stirring pieces of musical theatre to hit the Ahmanson stage in recent memory. 

Cynthia Kortman Westphal conducts the tight band in the score that lifts the actors into action, from the rousing opening number, “Welcome to the Rock” to the sober “Prayer.”  As a musical narrative, the score of Come From Away is delightful; it is not, however, the kind that sends one home singing its hits.  There is no show-stopper to be recorded for play on the radio.

Thanks to Director Christopher Ashley’s economy of pace, no intermission is needed.  From the downbeat to final curtain, time flies. Defying the limitations of time and space, Hein and Sankoff manage to meet their goal of telling “…16,000 stories in a 100-minute musical,” in no small part because of Ashley’s vision.

Howell Binkley’s lighting design is as much responsible for transporting the audience to the singular town of Gander as the music and performances.  Deep blues, hues of magenta, washes of wheat are like notes played in a visual symphony over Beowulf Boritt’s simple scenic design.

Here at the close of 2018, as our society seems to devolve into brutish offense and anger-perpetuating hatred—real or imagined—Come From Away offers a window on a different ethos of life.  While walls were crumbling down from hatred on one shore, goodness and love were being offered unconditionally on another: perhaps the strongest gift of Come From Away is to leave us asking, on which shore do we stand?

Don’t miss Come From Away runs through January 6th, 2019.  Get your tickets here.