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Review: Come From Away emotional in acting, faulted in musicality

May 10, 2019

More and more children are being born into a post-9/11 world. As time passes, details get lost, however, the Broadway musical Come From Away is bringing some of those details back into the light. The Tony-winning show came to the Orpheum for a four day stay from Mar. 27 to 31. 

Come From Away is based on true events. During and after 9/11, the United States airspace was closed, and all planes had to land. Thirty-eight of those planes landed in the town of Gander, Newfoundland in Canada. The 9,000 residents took the “plane people” in and treated them as their own through the days following the terrorist attack. 

 The cast is only made up of twelve actors, so most play multiple parts. Despite this, who’s who is rather easy to follow, as each new character has a different hat or jacket that makes them distinct. If you’re going to be confused by anything, it will be the dialogue. The actors talk and sing very quickly, and if you’re not listening closely, you’ll miss something important. It doesn’t help that all the Gander-native characters have the thickest Newfoundland accents you’ll ever hear.  

The costuming is nothing to rave at. Since all the characters are ordinary people, they wear ordinary clothes: flannels, letterman jackets and t-shirts. What is impressive is the set. The scene set on the stage changes little, though the scene in the play can go from an airplane to a road at night to a Tim Horton’s. Beautiful lighting and a spinning center disc on the stage make for most of these magical scene changes, but trees always border the stage and mismatched chairs are always scattered on the ground.  

The actors’ abilities are nothing to scoff at either. 9/11 is a clearly emotional event and their characters are in the middle of it. That emotion really comes through. There was a moment when I was sure there wasn’t a dry eye in the Orpheum house, including my own. That was all thanks to the pure emotion radiating from each of those twelve actors. The ability to, in a moment’s notice, shift from one character to another takes skill, especially when those characters are so different. For cast member Nick Duckart, one minute he was a gay man from Brooklyn coming home from a Paris vacation with his boyfriend, the next he was an Egyptian Muslim man being constantly looked at with fear and pulled aside for extra security searches.  

Though their acting was wonderful, I found the “musical” part of the show a bit lacking. Many songs were amazing, such as “Me and the Sky” sung by Becky Gulsvig. However, it quickly became obvious that these actors were chosen based on their singing ability, not dancing ability. The choreography was basic to the point of non-existence. In fact, the only thing I can remember that would at all count as “dancing” would be a unison stomp on the beat in the opening song, “Welcome to the Rock.”  

The music was provided by an on-stage band. Though they were often tucked back into the tree props, their presence was known. This became especially true during the song “Screech In” and after the curtain call, when the more mobile band members went further on stage to feature themselves. The score gave an Irish feel, featuring an Irish flute, mandolins and a bodhran (an Irish frame drum). Despite the play being set in Canada, the Celtic vibe fit and enhanced the setting. I suspect it was just the reminder that they weren’t in America anymore, they were in a foreign land. 

Despite the show’s few faults, I couldn’t help but enjoy myself. Most of these criticisms are only realized after the show itself. Sitting in that theater, I was purely invested in the good show. I laughed and cried with everyone else, and I’m sure any other theater-goer will, too. 

 

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