As you may already know, Come From Away is about how Gander, a small Canadian town in Newfoundland, stepped up to house, feed and assist nearly 7000 airline passengers and crew when American airspace closed immediately after the 9/11 attacks. If you don’t know the story, you can read about it here.
The show was the brainchild of Michael Rubinoff, a Toronto lawyer, theatre producer, and associate dean of visual and performing arts at Sheridan College in Oakville, who eventually approached fellow Canadians Irene Sankoff and David Hein with the idea. According to a Wikipedia article, “In 2011, Sankoff and Hein visited Gander on the tenth anniversary of the attacks to interview locals and returning passengers. The couple translated some stories directly to the musical while others were merged for story purposes.” After record-breaking runs in small regional theatres, the show opened on Broadway on March 12, 2017.
I loved this show. Come From Away is well written with great music and a talented cast. The lyrics are worth hearing, and they tell the personal stories effectively and movingly. This is a show that makes you rush home, tune into the cast recording on Spotify, and just let it play over and over.
In the 12-member cast, there was not one weak link. Each cast member plays several parts, of one of the “plane people” and also of a townee. They did so well, switching accents, personas and clothing, that it wasn’t until 20 minutes into the show that I fully realized what they were doing. That is how good they are, or maybe how entranced I was.
Perhaps I loved and felt the message of the show so strongly because of the current political situation in this country, and my reaction may have been magnified by having seen Michael Moore’s show The Terms of My Surrender the previous night. In his New York Times review, Ben Brantley writes, “. . . timing is to theater openings what location is to real estate pitches. . . Even a few years ago, “Come From Away” — which portrays the efforts of a town on Newfoundland island to accommodate the 6,700 travelers whose planes were diverted there after the 9/11 attacks — might not even have made it to Broadway.”
Some critics have accused the show of glossing over the horror of 9/11 with the warmth and fuzziness of what happened in Gander. Ben Brantley, in the same review, also writes “Are there moments that feel a little too heartwarming, like a rustic Canadian bar’s reflexive acceptance of a gay couple (Mr. Kimball and Caesar Samayoa) who nervously wander in? Sure. But the show also makes room for lingering prejudices — most notably regarding Muslims — and the sense that the altruism that arises in a crisis may evaporate as soon as the crisis is over.”
Sometimes we need our hearts warmed, like currently when the cruelty and thoughtlessness of some of our fellow Americans is so frightening. When the “plane people” offer payment, the townees in Come From Away refuse with the words, “You’d do the same for us.” Would we? I hope so, but I wonder.
Come From Away: Now playing at Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre in New York
We went to this because Elizabeth loves Michael Moore. I like Michael Moore but I love Elizabeth and Rose, so there we were. I figured it would be entertaining, because Michael Moore is relevant, smart and funny. Everyone in the theatre was there because they know and love MM, so he really was preaching to the choir, although NY Times Jesse Green said, “He’s not preaching to the choir: He’s bragging to it.”
The parts I enjoyed most were the bits of stand-up, such as when Moore takes on the TSA rules banning certain carry-on items, like axes and machetes, and when he says what he would do if elected president, like making proprietary device charger cords illegal.
We have all heard MM’s message a lot recently, at the Women’s March and other venues. Basically, he wants us to know that we got ourselves into this mess and we need to get ourselves out of it. To his credit, he tells us exactly what we need to do, if we are willing. In the end, even if I didn’t learn anything new, it was fun to see MM up close and personal.
The Terms of My Surrender: Currently playing at Belasco Theatre in New York through October 22, 2017.
The Great Comet is a small part of an epic story. If like Elizabeth, you’ve read War and Peace five times, then you already know it, but if you are unfamiliar with the plot, I’ll help you. Basically, in this musical, a young girl is seduced by a cad and there are consequences, Tolstoyan consequences with lots of drinking and drama. All this is presented in a cabaret setting with wild costumes and a lot of activity.
There were so many characters in this show that the prologue is an introduction and labeling, and there is a Family Tree in the program. Here are the lyrics to the first song, which I had to look up because I couldn’t hear them in the theatre.
And this is all in your program
You are at the opera
You’re gonna have to study up a little bit
If you wanna keep with the plot
‘Cause it’s a complicated Russian novel
Everyone’s got nine different names
So look it up in your program
We’d appreciate it, thanks a lot
When Josh Groban left the role of Pierre in July, he was replaced by Hamilton veteran Okieriete Onaodowan, who may be well known to Hamilton fans but doesn’t exactly have a household name. Then, because box office numbers still weren’t rebounding after Groban’s departure, Onaodowan’s run was cut short and producers signed Mandy Patinkin, who does have a household name. This sparked a protest, because a white actor was replacing an actor of color. Wait. Who did Onaodowan replace? Anyway Patinkin withdrew, and the show just couldn’t survive and closed over Labor Day.
I love Mandy Patinkin and like Josh Groban well enough, but I doubt having either in the role of Pierre would have made much of a difference. Scott Stangland was good. He played Pierre during the entire pre-Broadway run of The Great Comet and even won an award for it. Although the personas and voices of Mandy or Josh might have been better foils for Lucas Steele’s cartoonish portrayal of Anatole, Pierre isn’t a big or strong character. We aren’t given much of a chance to bond with Pierre, because he’s usually hanging out in the orchestra pit, drinking and writing. There are too many characters, so the focus is constantly moving, which isn’t helped by the cast members being all over the audience during the bigger numbers.
There is cleverness in the way the theatre is been turned into a cabaret and the direction which has cast members spread out throughout the audience for the big numbers, but I also found it distracting, having the back of a dancer six inches in front me, blocking my view. The Great Comet was worth seeing, for the innovative staging and direction, but maybe War and Peace was a bit ambitious. Perhaps they could have started with something simpler, like Anna Karenina.
The Great Comet closed on September 3, 2017.
Thanks to Rose for finding this great restaurant in the East Village. If you aren’t vegan or follow a dairy-free diet, you need to go here and have the raclette. It was delicious and well done. I had the Parisienne raclette, which consisted of a pan-seared marinated skirt steak, sauteed mushrooms, roasted asparagus and potatoes, and all of it was delicious. Ken missed out this time, because we were on a girls’ trip, but I will definitely take my cheese-loving husband next time.
Raclette: 511 East 12th Street, New York. Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays 12pm – 11pm; Fridays 12:00 pm – 12:00 am; Saturdays 11am – 12am; Sundays 11am – 10pm. Reservations available on the website or on Opentable.com.