Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Come From Away – A Story of Heart, Hope and the Human Spirit

28 March 2021, QPAC, BrisbanereQG12pW?ref=Link

On 11 September, 2001, 38 aircraft carrying 6597 passengers and 19 animals from 92 countries are diverted to a little-known town called Gander in Newfoundland, Canada. These are the remarkable true statistics upon which the musical Come From Away, is based. The musical, directed by Christopher Ashley, is about so much more than simple facts and figures, however; it is about stories. Stories of hope, resilience and determination in the face of devastating adversity. Stories of individual fear, loss and doubt in response to abject tragedy. Above all else though, it is a story about the power of community and strength of the human spirit. When nearly 7000 confused, tired and desperate passengers descend upon Gander, it is the community members who rally together, opening their homes and their hearts to feed, clothe and support the passengers in their hour (or, more accurately, five days) of need.

It is against this backdrop that the action of Come From Away, is set. The story unfolds over the five days the passengers are in Gander, highlighting individual anecdotes, while never losing sight of the strength of community to bring people together. The plane passengers and the Gander community are represented by an ensemble of twelve lead actors. Come From Away is an ensemble piece, with each actor assuming multiple roles, reflected in simple costume changes or the addition of props to differentiate between characters. There are no superfluous features in this show; the set, designed by Beowulf Boritt, is minimalist in nature, based around redwood tree trunks to remind us we are in Canada, while the use of wooden chairs of varying design underpins key moments of action – sometimes representing the cabin of an aircraft, other times a café, a pub or the interior of a school hall. Add in the purposeful use of a stage revolve, and we have a show that allows the audience to focus on acting first without the distractions of a busy set. Similarly, costuming, designed by Toni-Leslie James, is also simplistic and used to symbolise particular roles at key points, without ever pulling focus from the commanding performances.

These design decisions mean the audience is able to place all of its attention on the phenomenal ensemble cast – just where it should be. This cast is one of the tightest, most in-sync groups to grace the stage. Their movements at all times are sharp, purposeful and perfectly executed through every stirring song in the show, keeping the action moving along at a rousing clip. In fact, the 100-minute run time (without an interval) moves so fast, the show definitely warrants a return visit, just to take it all in. Even though the show is relatively short, it packs in so much. In the touching performance of the two Kevins (Douglas Hansell and Joseph Naim), we witness love, loss, pain and anger, while we also share in moments of heart-warming humour from New Yorker, Bob (Kolby Kindle) and Gander police officer, Oz (Simon Maiden). Additionally, we see amazing acts of generosity and kindness from Gander school teacher, Beulah (Emma Powell) and local vet, Bonnie (Kellie Rode). One of the most affecting plotlines comes from Nick (Philip Lowe) and Diane (Katrina Retallick) who struggle with the idea of finding love amidst trauma in ‘Stop the World’. Gander town mayor, Claude (Gene Weygandt), rounds out the Newfoundlanders, with their particular customs and traditions (‘Screech In’) and flight attendant, Janice (Sarah Morrison), completes the new arrivals.

With so much happening in the show, it’s almost impossible to choose just one stand-out moment, as the whole production is so strong. That being said, two memorable songs include the show’s opening number, ‘Welcome to the Rock’ which sets a lively pace with its energetic pulse and then the powerful ‘Finale’ that, on opening night, transitioned into an extended standing ovation from the capacity crowd. These are both moments which will be remembered for a long time to come. The whole-company songs are incredibly engaging and capably supported by amazingly skilled on-stage musicians (with music direction by Luke Hunter). Some of the most emotionally captivating moments come from characters who share their own tales – from pilot Beverly (Zoe Gertz) in the moving ‘Me and the Sky’, to Hannah (Sharriese Hamilton) who is desperate for news about her firefighter son, missing in NYC (‘I Am Here’), to Ali (Naim), a Muslim man who faces increasing suspicion and prejudice as the days pass and the ‘plane people’ learn more about the horrific events that have transpired in the 9/11 attack (‘Prayer’).

These stories, among others, are the threads which weave together into a rich tapestry of human experience, reminding us that while we may come from different places, while we may ‘come from away’, we can still find unity in compassion and kindness in the most unexpected of places. This message is both timeless and timely and, with such formidable performances, unforgettable songs, and clever staging, Come From Away is definitely not to be missed! It is simply sensational and like nothing seen before on the Brisbane stage. Don’t miss out!

Review by Melanie King.


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