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THEATER REVIEW Come From Away
by Jonathan Abarbanel, Windy City Times
2019-08-07

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Authors: Book, music & lyrics by Irene Sankoff and David Hein

At: Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St. Tickets: 800-775-2000; BroadwayInChicago.com; $35-$105. Runs through: Aug. 18

With the United States flush with bigotry, mendacity, megalomania and bullying from the White House down, it's ennobling—and chastening—to see a Canadian musical that celebrates generosity, kindness, selflessness, courtesy and good humor. Most reviewers praise Come From Away as heartwarming, nurturing or uplifting and I'm no exception. A true ensemble work with no star roles and little dance ( but lots of movement ), it's superbly performed by an appealing and gifted national touring company.

On Sept. 11, 2001, 38 international flights headed for the United States were diverted to Gander, about 40 miles from the Atlantic coast of Newfoundland. In the pre-jet era, Gander was a major refueling stop for planes to/from Europe. By 2001 it was a semi-rural town of 9,000 which found itself forced to host 6,600 people and 19 animals for five days. Come From Away tells that story to the driving rhythms of Irish tabors and pipes.

Come From Away runs 95 fast and engaging minutes. It's energetic, but pleasantly without the phony pumped pizazz of many Broadway shows. Perhaps that's because it's based on real people and real micro stories of both Newfoundlanders and passengers, which are honestly—if oh-so-rapidly—presented in checkerboard fashion.

Six men and six women play all the townsfolk and airplane folk. The story centers on Gander's mayor, cop, bus driver and teacher among other locals, emphasizing their independent spirit ( Newfoundland joined Canada only in 1949 ). Among the stranded strangers are American Airline's first female pilot, a couple who fall in love, another couple ( gay, as it happens ) who break up, a woman whose son is a New York City firefighter and a Muslim chef. Curiously, there are no children, yet kids must have been part of this story.

Nearly through-scored with few applause breaks, Come From Away honors the Irish heritage of many Newfoundlanders with a rousing, mostly up tempo folkloric score ( with light rock elements ), featuring chiefly acoustic guitars, fiddle, Irish flute and pipe and percussion played by eight onstage musicians conducted by Cynthia Kortman Westphal. The handsome unit set is by Beowulf Boritt with Howell Binkley's lovely in-plain-sight lighting.

Despite its congeniality, Come From Away left me saddened or at least deeply reflective, as noted at the top. Your see, it isn't really about people acting in extraordinary ways. Although triggered by exceptional circumstances, it's about people acting as people should act at all times. It's about fundamental human concern and decency. Ironically, some will contend that America's churlish now descends directly from the then of 9/11. Come From Away isn't religious, but it displays Western Judeo-Christian values as they still may be in Canada but no longer are in our nation. It beats no drum but reminds us nonetheless.


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