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  • Writer's pictureAlex First

Come From Away (Comedy Theatre) - 100 minutes without interval

I have seen it three times now and on each occasion I exit the theatre in awe of what I have just witnessed.

Simply put, it is a show I can’t get enough of … and with very good reason because it is such a brilliantly told, magnificently performed and most remarkable story.

Behind it is the most heinous of tragedies.

Come From Away is dramatic, comedic and romantic.

It is overlaid with immense sadness and apprehension and yet its core is drawn from the very best of humanity, a triumph of spirit, strength and resilience.

Photos by Jeff Busby

The combination of marvellous writing, exceptional direction, superb choreography, minimal staging, a harmonious 12-strong cast and seven talented musicians works a treat.

The latter play a combination of Celtic and more familiar instruments to produce a distinctive sound that starts with the throbbing pulse of the bodhran. It is reminiscent of someone dancing on a wooden floor.

You dare not look away for even a moment in a 100-minute production without interval that doesn’t let up.

Inspired by fact, what a special, feel-good endeavour this is – one that restores your faith in the world.

Moving, uplifting, funny, energetic and melodic, I defy anyone not to be in raptures about Come From Away.

Who would have thought anyone could turn such a dastardly deed on its head and create something so positive and theatrical?

The story is set in Newfoundland, an island off the far northeast coast of Canada, after the September 11, 2001 (9/11) terrorist attacks.

As a result, for the first time, American airspace was shut down.

Thirty-eight commercial aircraft carrying 6,579 passengers from 92 countries were diverted to this sleepy hollow, population 9,651 (and four traffic lights).

Ill-equipped to handle the deluge, led by the Mayor of Gander, the citizens of Newfoundland rallied and found a way through.

When they landed, those on board the planes had no idea what had just happened.

When they found out, like the rest of the world, they were deeply shocked and just wanted to get home … but they couldn’t for five long days.

In the meantime, the townsfolk went way beyond the call of duty to lend a helping hand.

By so doing, they entrenched Newfoundland into the psyche of all who inadvertently found their way there.

Amongst the chaos, that place became an unexpected haven, which the weary travellers took to heart.

Sure, there was tension, distrust, fear and heartbreak, but there was also overwhelming good will from the locals, which won out.

In the story, love is lost and found, and new life-long friendships forged … all in the space of just a few days that changed those involved.

I should mention that the musical’s unusual title comes from the fact that Newfoundlanders refer to those not born on the island as “Come From Aways”.

To create the show, Canadian writers Irene Sankoff and David Hein (who are responsible for the music, lyrics and book) went straight to the source.

They travelled to Newfoundland for the 10th anniversary of that fateful week.

Further, they collected hundreds of hours of interviews that they distilled into the completed work.

Come From Away debuted on Broadway in February 2017. It went on to claim the Tony Award for Best Direction.

Many of the performers in this latest Melbourne season are not the same as the last time the production was in town (at the start of last year) or the time before that (being the middle of 2019).

Each of the cast shares the limelight, assuming multiple characters.

All are terrific, with Zoe Gertz playing the first female captain of an American Airlines aircraft with distinction. She was a member of the original Australian company of Come From Away.

Among the other standouts are David Silvestri as the larger-than-life Mayor of Gander and Joe Kosky as the local policeman.

There is also much to like about the comedic showing of Kyle Brown and the empathetic and “get on with it” portrayals of Emma Powell.

The most basic of sets (Beowulf Boritt is responsible for scenic design), with revolving central stage and trees on either side serves the storyline well.

The songs, which number 15, are rousing and poignant.

So much happens and the words and lyrics tell a tale of anguish and inspiration.

Directed by Christopher Ashley, with musical supervision from Ian Eisendrath and musical staging by Kelly Devine, the narrative moves along at pace and leaves you feeling buoyant.

I cannot recommend Come From Away more highly.

It is an astounding piece of work, brilliantly conceived and executed.

See it for the first time or the second or the third. Regardless, just see it.

It is playing at the Comedy Theatre in Melbourne until 30th October.


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