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Theater review: Innovative must-see musical 'Come From Away' shares real-life 9/11 stories with warmth and joy


A version of this review will appear in Friday's Weekend Life section of The Oklahoman. To read my interviews with real-life pilot Beverley Bass and actress Marika Aubrey, click here

Theater review: Innovative must-see musical 'Come From Away' shares real-life 9/11 stories with warmth and joy

Like a cozy, handcrafted scarf, the innovative musical "Come From Away" is tightly knitted piece of theater art that wraps audiences in its warmth while flashing some shiny threads and snazzy flourishes.

The crowd-pleasing smash is unlike any other national touring production recently routed through Oklahoma City's Civic Center Music Hall, and not just because the show runs just one hour and 45 minutes and skips the traditional intermission. Tony Award-nominated Canadian composers and lyricists Irene Sankoff and David Hein have created a genuine ensemble piece in which the dozen cast members and eight-person acoustic band bring to life an entire village and an eclectic crowd of unexpected visitors.

The North American tour cast of "Come From Away" performs. [Matthew Murphy photo]
The North American tour cast of "Come From Away" performs. [Matthew Murphy photo]

Based on a myriad of true stories, "Come From Away" is set on the island hamlet of Gander, Newfoundland, on Sept. 11, 2001, when the small Canadian town's oversized airport (a holdover from when planes needed to refuel before they could complete a North Atlantic crossing) became the emergency landing place for 38 jumbo jets as the terrorist attacks shut down U.S. airspace for the first time in history.

The community of about 9,000 hearty folk suddenly found themselves trying to feed, clothe and shelter 7,000 international airline passengers of various languages, countries and creeds.

One of the real-life people depicted in the musical, Beverley Bass, the trailblazing retired American Airlines pilot who lives in Argylye, Texas, and now flies a private plane out of Oklahoma City's Wiley Post Airport, calls "Come From Away" a 9/12 story rather than a 9/11 story. Indeed, the focus of the uplifting show is the way the people of Gander and the surrounding towns worked nonstop for days to meet the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of a horde of strangers, who eventually responded with their own outpourings of generosity.

But Sankoff and Hein use real emotions, reactions and situations to kindle their heartwarming show, ensuring it has an emotional payoff that feels earned rather frivolous. Stuck on their planes for as long as 28 hours and then finally confronted with the terrible news that has already rocked the world, the stranded passengers are frustrated, confused, scared, lonely, angry and desperate, while the townsfolk struggle to set aside their differences (especially an entrenched school bus drivers strike), overcome language barriers and solve an array of logistical problems. So, when the characters sing of how their lives have been forever changed, you believe them.

The band from the North American tour of "Come From Away" performs. [Matthew Murphy photo]
The band from the North American tour of "Come From Away" performs. [Matthew Murphy photo]

Although the show isn't sung through, the music is so nimbly threaded through the story that the songs seem more like part of a whole than separate numbers. Often playing traditional folk instruments like Irish flute, bouzouki and bodhran, the band performs on stage, usually hovering around the edges of Beowulf Boritt's cannily simple set design but occasionally joining the cast to create a lively pub scene.

Under the Tony-winning direction of Christopher Ashley, the actors seamlessly swap out accents, attitudes and accessories to change characters mid-scene and deftly rearrange chairs to switch settings from the inside of an airplane to a small-town coffee shop to an impromptu backyard barbecue.

While most of the performers have one particular role that stands out, Nick Duckart is quietly terrific bouncing between Kevin J., a gay American whose longtime relationship suffers in the wake of the tragedy, and Ali, a Muslim immigrant from Egypt who is suddenly subjected to suspicion and humiliation.

Marika Aubrey exudes authority as Bass and nails the musical's soaring number "Me and the Sky," James Earl Jones II provides comic relief as Bob, a hard-nosed New Yorker who is suspicious of his Canadian hosts' bountiful hospitality, and Kevin Carolan affably holds court with the Gander mayor spearheading the care of the "plane people." Christine Toy Johnson and Chamblee Ferguson have lovely chemistry as a Texas single mother and British businessman who strike up an unlikely romance, while Julie Johnson, portraying nurturing Newfoundlander Beulah, plays well with Danielle K. Thomas, whose turn as a mother worried about her son, a New York City firefighter, is one of the show's most powerful.

An important and unique piece of art, "Come From Away" also happens to a joyously resonant must-see musical. It's playing through Sunday at the Civic Center.


ON STAGE

"Come From Away"

When: 7:30 p.m. today and Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 1:30 and 7 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Civic Center Music Hall, 201 N Walker.

Tickets and information: www.okcbroadway.com or 594-8300.

-BAM 

Related Photos
The North American tour cast of "Come From Away" performs. [Matthew Murphy photo]

The North American tour cast of "Come From Away" performs. [Matthew Murphy photo]

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-b31c04cf2a627cae31fdbcbd1ac3b96e.jpg" alt="Photo - The North American tour cast of "Come From Away" performs. [Matthew Murphy photo] " title="The North American tour cast of "Come From Away" performs. [Matthew Murphy photo] "><figcaption>The North American tour cast of "Come From Away" performs. [Matthew Murphy photo] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-aef79a27600e7e2e14557561a5a3dad8.jpg" alt="Photo - The band from the North American tour of "Come From Away" performs. [Matthew Murphy photo] " title="The band from the North American tour of "Come From Away" performs. [Matthew Murphy photo] "><figcaption>The band from the North American tour of "Come From Away" performs. [Matthew Murphy photo] </figcaption></figure>
Brandy McDonnell

Brandy McDonnell, also known by her initials BAM, writes stories and reviews on movies, music, the arts and other aspects of entertainment. She is NewsOK’s top blogger: Her 4-year-old entertainment news blog, BAM’s Blog, has notched more than 1... Read more ›

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