4 Stars out of 4
The main character of the award winning musical Come From Away is a town full of independent Newfoundlanders with a can do attitude. The protagonist is the ensemble! The villain here is an international tragedy: the events of 9-11, when American air space closed for several days stranding 6,700 passengers on 38 airplanes on the furthest tip of the continent. Not knowing why they were ordered out of the sky, when they will get to go home, what language is spoken or when they will be able to reach their loved ones, and even as every airline passenger is a suspected terrorist, all this threatens to turn terrified people into hurtful ones. And the hero, the innate hospitality of the Newfoundlanders, turns strangers into friends in this modern day and very Canadian Our Town.
Gander, Newfoundland has a population of about 7,000 souls when the planes hit the towers, and it has a large mothballed airport left over from a time when airplanes needed to refuel before crossing the Atlantic, and thus it seems a perfect spot to ground jetliners when the United States Government takes every plane out of the sky. The town draws together to feed, comfort and care for what comes to be knows as the Plane People for five days as the United States reels from the shock. The people of the town are transformed as are the travelers. What is masterful in this 100 minutes without intermission is that writers Irene Sankoff and David Hein manage to tell a moving specific story while weaving many tales into the overall narrative: one longtime couple comes apart with the stress and strangeness, one couple comes together (and is still together, now married) . From thereal pilot Beverley Bass, the first female captain ever hired by American Airlines, to fictional Beulah, whose son is a firefighter in New York who is missing, this visceral tale is told with grace. The song “Prayer”, a riff on the classic Prayer of St. Francis, is a worthy anthem for our time. It’s on repeat on Spotify in my car right now as a replacement for the news.
This show is a modern epic of inclusion and acceptance that serves as a perfect counterpoint to the current xenophobia and hate mongering. And it’s true: I know someone who was there and they attest to the inherent accuracy of what happened as it is portrayed here. The people of Gander simple accept and welcome 7,000 strangers into their homes and hearts as if it were the most ordinary action one could take.
Standout is Chicago favorite James Earl Jones II who plays Bob and others brings humor and honesty to his parts. Nick Dukart, who plays the maligned Egyptian Ali who everyone suspects as a terrorist, represents the new reality for the Muslim community. The entire cast is stellar, creating an entire town of memorable and sympathetic characters while evolving like chameleons. Even the band is fantastic, coming on for an Islander style ceili at one point.
This show is artfully created, solidly crafted, but most of all it is beautifully moving. It restores one’s faith in humanity. I cannot wait until the rights are available for High Schools: this is social studies in a transformational way, and some stories need to be told over and over. It’s a show with no stars, it’s the uplifting tale of the power of community. I came out of the theatre changed.
Don’t wait to see this show:Come from Away is only running until August 18, 2019 at Broadway in Chicago’s Cadillac Palace Theatre at 151 West Randolph in Chicago’s Loop.For tickets and information go to Come From Away | Broadway in Chicago