Truth is stranger than fiction – and COME FROM AWAY only goes to prove the point. With book, music, and lyrics by Irene Sankoff and David Hein – based on hundreds of interviews with people who lived through this event – COME FROM AWAY documents how the unexpected can lead to the closest to heroism possible. When thousands of hapless passengers on almost 40 international flights were suddenly barred from U.S. air space on September 11, 2001, lives would change in surprising ways.
Suddenly, with almost no notice, 7,000 people literally descended on the unprepared populace of Gander, Newfoundland, and several nearby villages. But these strong minded and clever folk were not to be defeated by anything thrown their way. All of these newcomers were COME FROM AWAY, and the hospitable and undaunted residents wanted to make sure that all their needs were met. Needs included even toilet paper – with the contribution so massive that they had to call a halt to their request. Over 50 years ago, Gander was an important fueling stop for planes traversing the continents. It proved to be their moment of glory, for – when air travel grew up from the early days and allowed planes to fly between continents without refueling – Gander lost its earlier significance and faded into a quiet, small settlement where everyone knew everyone else and small-town culture thrived.
This chance encounter between people from around the globe proved to be seminal for everyone involved – from the two mothers from Gander and New York, both with fire fighter sons, to the lonely English businessman who clicks with the forthright Texas cowgirl. And let’s not forget the impact of acceptance on the gay couple who expect rejection – and the urbanite who believes that he must keep his eye constantly on his wallet – until he doesn’t. And how can we forget about the pregnant Bonobo chimpanzee? For their quick, compassionate, and caring aid to the travelers, the Newfoundlanders expected only the opportunity to build new friendships, refusing any money or gifts. To their amazement, their guests eventually send them more than $60,000 as their way of saying thanks. On top of that, many of those who had shared five days in 2001 returned in 2011 for a ten-year reunion.
Helmed by skilled director Christopher Ashley – who clearly is a multi-tasker – the stand-out actors portray multiple roles as the saga unfolds. Kudos to a great ensemble cast who manage to transition repeatedly from Ganderites to Awayites – an exercise in accents and word flow. And congratulations to the musical team, including Ian Eisendrath (music supervision), Kelly Devine (music staging), Cynthia Kortman Westphal (conductor), and Jane Bunting (dance captain). Because music – typically with a Celtic flare – is an integral part of the play, with nine musicians on stage at all times (even if hidden in shadowed corners). Scenic designer Beowulf Boritt has creatively taken a relatively simple stage and developed dancing chairs and sly movement everywhere.
COME FROM AWAY is an enchanting fairy tale; and, at the same time, a real-life adventure which will charm everyone in the audience. It’s almost impossible not to smile as the engaging account progresses. This is a feel-good story which may just prove that people, given half a chance, can handle any crisis with grace and wit.
COME FROM AWAY runs through January 6, 2019, with performances at 8 p.m. on Tuesdays through Fridays, at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturdays, and at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on Sundays. The Ahmanson Theatre is located at The Music Center, 135 N. Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90012. Tickets ranged from $30 to $155. For information and reservations, call 213-972-7231 or go online.