Friday, December 2, 2016 6:55 am ·  1 Comment
Both masterful as musical theatre and profoundly deep in soul, Come From Away, the new musical now playing at Toronto’s Royal Alexandra Theatre, is a great night at the theatre, and the best show Toronto’s seen this year.
The new musical also has a special connection to the Oakville community. The show was workshopped here in 2012 at Sheridan College and launched the rapidly growing Canadian Musical Theatre Project by Michael Rubinoff. The Oakville audience was the first to see it, and helped shaped the musical into what it is today.
But since leaving here, the show has travelled to sold out runs in Seattle, Los Angeles, Washington DC and Gander, Newfoundland – the town that inspired the show’s story. Come From Away has yet to have an unsold seat, and with good reason. Once you’ve been, it’s hard not to encourage your friends to see it too.
Now the full production is on stage in Toronto before moving to Broadway in February, arriving after three years of workshops and out-of-town tryouts. Once the show opens in New York, it will be a serious contender for the prestigious Best Musical Tony Award.
If it does win the Tony, it would be the first Canadian show ever to win a prize for best production of any kind. But that’s easier said than done, with fierce competition from two popular opponents: Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 and Dear Evan Hansen.
But having seen Come From Away myself? I say it has a serious chance.
The musical tells the story of redirected airplanes from the American airspace when it was closed on September 11th, 2001. 38 jet planes were sent to the rural town of Gander, Newfoundland, and the town’s population of 7,000 doubled in one day.
What follows is the remarkable true story about a town in eastern Canada that stopped everything to accommodate the lost travellers. From a bus drivers strike to the first week of school, even the local Tim Hortons shut down (!) while Gander brought in thousands of “Come From Aways,” showing compassion and generosity to strangers from around the world.
The result is a stirring and cathartic musical that moves with tremendous power and speed. The 100-minute play depicts a diverse community with several stories effectively. It’s always brisk to build suspense, but calm enough to avoid being confusing. Sitting in the theatre, you feel such joy of the human spirit the audience is infused with rousing pride.
Balancing dark and uplifting, Come From Away is something special. Critical and commercial success is rare in the world of live theatre, more so than other kinds of entertainment. This is more true in Canada, where the thought of a Broadway run is like a dog playing piano; not an impossible idea, but highly unlikely.
In fact, there’s only been two such cases in the last 25 years. The first was 2005’s The Drowsy Chaperone, a Toronto musical that lost at the Tony Awards and didn’t turn a profit. The other was Stratford Festival’s Jesus Christ Superstar in 2011, which closed in just three months. Both saw positive reviews, but ultimately little audience interest in New York.
The good news is, Come From Away appears to have the right ingredients to make the show both unique and intriguing. Hopefully, the competitive Broadway market will embrace its soaring individuality.
Twelve courageous actors create one of the tightest ensembles who bring dozens of locals and strangers to life. They move deftly between characters, sometimes switching in seconds, and their vulnerability shows the colossal talent of the cast.
Perhaps the most delicate element is that balance between slick Canadian humour and the sensitive, tragic history from 9/11. This is where the careful, expert direction from Christopher Ashley shines. Ashley knows exactly when and where to play every idea and emotion across the diverse spread. His staging is wonderful.
Ashley’s team of designers bring their A-game to give a bold, exciting look to the stage, with production value rarely seen in Toronto theatre. Beowulf Boritt’s charming sets, Toni-Leslie James’ distinguished costumes, Howell Binkley’s robust lighting and Kelly Devine’s dynamic choreography all contribute to the show’s rousing energy.
And finally, there’s Canadian husband and wife duo Irene Sankoff and David Hein, the show’s writers for the book, music, and lyrics. While the music is far more impactful than the (occasionally tepid) lyrics, songs and score are integrated seamlessly into the story. It flows with ease and an Eastern Canadian soul.
August Eriksmoen’s orchestrations certainly help, but the killer six-piece band rocks the house with a thunderous world and folk score that captures a genre rarely popularized. I’m from New Brunswick myself, and all night it felt reminiscent of home.
Home – that’s the source of the show’s beating heart. In a season with harsh political tones and the fear of who belongs where, Come From Away reminds us that opening our doors builds up our world. The only connection that matters in any time – peace or crisis – is that we are all human. It’s a message that comes with a dynamic relevance.
If you are interested in tickets, the show is close to sold out for the remaining seven weeks of it’s run. Mirvish has announced there are fewer than 10,000 tickets left, and there are no more subscriber or group discounts available due to demand.
But the hassle and the price is worth it. Don’t miss this spellbinding theatrical achievement before it heads to New York – Come From Away is one of the best original Canadian plays of our time. Sitting in the theatre, you’ll find everyone’s here to come together in a groundbreaking way.
Come From Away
4 out of 4 Stars
Rated 10+, 100 minutes, Musical History Comedy.
Directed by Christopher Ashley.
Starring Jenn Collella, Joel Hatch, Chad Kimball, and Petrina Bromley.
Also with Geno Carr, Rodney Hicks, Kendra Kassbaum, Lee Macdougall, Caesar Samayoa, Q. Smith, Astrid van Weiren, and Sharon Wheatley.
Now Playing at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, 260 King Street West, Toronto, ON.
Runs until January 8th, 2017. Tickets at www.mirvish.com, range $65-$235.
2001, Broadway, Chad Kimball, Christopher Ashley, Come From Away, David Hein, History, Irene Sankoff, Jenn Collela, Joel Hatch, Michael Rubinoff, Mirvish Productions, Musical Theatre, Oakville, Petrine Bromley, reviews, Royal Alexandra Theatre, September 11th, Sheridan College, Toronto, www.mirvish.com