Review Scene: Based on an extraordinary true story ‘Come From Away’ is not your typical musical

Photo by Jeff Busby

Following on from successful seasons in New York, London and Toronto, Melbourne is currently hosting the Australian premiere of Come From Away. This ground-breaking musical is based on the incredible real-life events in the wake of the September 11 tragedy, when 38 planes carrying nearly 7,000 people from over 100 countries were redirected to Gander, Newfoundland, almost doubling the population of the remote Canadian town.

The show captures the generosity and hospitality of the small community of Gander who cared for and invited the “come from aways” into their homes, it is an inspirational story of hope and humanity.

Photo by Jeff Busby

In contrast to the glitz and glamour of some of the big budget musicals around, Come from Away takes a relatively minimalist approach to the stage design, giving it a small town feel in line with the town in which this story is based.  With minimal props, the staging has been cleverly designed to be moved and adapted to the numerous scenarios being described through the verbal and musical narrative.  Converting from a coffee shop, to school, to an aircraft cabin, to a bar and so on.

Photo by Jeff Busby

Equally adaptable are the cast who each play multiple roles throughout the show.  Ultimately, it’s a collection of stories about everyday people doing extraordinary things as opposed to just one central ‘hero’ and there are a lot of characters whose stories need to be told.  The performances are consistently strong across all of the cast with each actor frequently switching between roles as simple town folk to that of a international visitor.  The storyline, however remains clear throughout.

The music is wholesome, catchy, folksy stuff no doubt inspired by the traditional music from Newfoundland and it is always great when the musicians can be incorporated into the stage design.  Six of the seven-piece band are scattered amongst trees in the background and are also brought to the fore as the town band in one of the evening gatherings.

Photo by Jeff Busby
Photo by Jeff Busby

The show is relatively fast paced wasting no time in diving in to the many stories interwoven with this event.  – the uniqueness of the islanders in Gander with their distinctive accents and simple way of life, the extent they had to adapt to an extraordinary event and their good-natured willingness to do so and the many unexpected implications that they had to deal with including passengers not being allowed to access their luggage requiring a significant amount of clothing and supplies donations, to the many animals that had to be cared for in the cargo holds of the aircrafts.  Individual stories of a number of the international travelers also unfold throughout the show.

In amongst all of the challenges faced, there are many laughs and feel good moments stemming from the many interactions between the townsfolk and their visitors and the human connections made.  Many of the friendships formed carry on to this day.

Photo by Jeff Busby

With book, music and lyrics by David Hein and Irene Sankoff, COME FROM AWAY is directed by Tony Award winner Christopher Ashley, choreographed by Kelly Devine (Rock of Ages, Diana), with music supervision by Ian Eisendrath (A Christmas Story, Diana), scenic design by Beowulf Boritt (Rock of Ages, Be More Chill) costume design by Toni-Leslie James (Jelly’s Last Jam), lighting design by Howell Binkley (Jersey Boys, Hamilton), sound design by Gareth Owen (Diana, A Bronx Tale).

Season running till 10th November 2019 For more information: https://comefromaway.com.au/tickets/melbourne/  Grab your tickets here

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