Reviews/Musical Theatre

Some kind of wonderful

8 May 2023

Come From Away celebrates the best of humanity in the worst of times. Ara Jansen is swept up in the story of a little town with a big heart.

Come From Away, Junkyard Dog Productions 
Crown Theatre, 7 May 2023 

On September 11, 2001 the world changed. The same day the equivalent of a mini United Nations descended on the island of Newfoundland, off the coast of Canada, after American airspace was closed. More than 4000 planes were diverted, 38 of them landed on the tarmac in the town of Gander.  

In probably one of the oddest and most unique stories of the time, the small community of Gander welcomed thousands of strangers into their homes and their hearts. They fed them, found them places to sleep, places to pray and clothes to wear. Unexpected connections were made. 

Come From Away is what Newfoundland locals call visitors to their island and it’s the musical story of the handful of days that 6579 passengers and crew spent in Gander while trying to contact loved ones, get home and come to terms with what had just happened to the world.  

This is a wonderful production, complete with all the right elements – a great if curious story and songs that are catchy and uplifting but sometimes stab you in the heart (think the valiant call of Do You Hear the People Sing? meets a tearfully hopeful Seasons of Love). These moments of happiness, sadness, anger and confusion are delivered by a cast filled with energy and exuberance.    

One of the most likeable things about Come From Away is its attention to detail: a blossoming love story between a Texan and an Englishman because they happened to be flying in the same direction on a fated day; the three steps to becoming a Newfoundlander; a joke about an accordion (maybe only the locals think funny); and the indefatigable Bonnie (Kat Harrison), who is determined to care for the animals in the cargo holds, including a cat named Lyle and a pregnant bonobo.  

Phillip Lowe and Natalie O’Donnell play strangers who make a lasting connection in ‘Come From Away’. Photo: Jeff Busby

The gravity of events is regularly offset by warmly laughable moments as Beulah (Emma Powell) dramatically breaks into My Heart Will Go On or Kaya Byrne’s cheeky cop drops snorty one liners.  

Equally, the story doesn’t shy away from the darker and more uncomfortable moments, such as a hotel chef everyone is suspicious of because he’s Muslim; communicating through a bible with an African couple who fear people in uniform; and New Yorker Bob, who thinks everyone is out to steal his wallet. Thankfully, they find a way to overcome their prejudices and judgments.        

It might take a bit to adjust your ear to the Newfoundland accent – Canadian mixed with touches of Irish – which the cast handles really well, if at times just a little too fast to process. Everyone plays numerous characters (easily changed by a jacket, skullcap or bucket hat) and they too handle the changing accents with aplomb.  

A simple, multi-functional set and creative lighting are a perfect backdrop – doors in the back wall lead into the cargo hold or the dramatic, isolating single spotlights on the air traffic controllers looking for answers. The characters spend a lot of time sitting, standing on and moving around a ragtag bunch of mostly wooden kitchen and dining chairs. They are perfect for the bar and coffee shop but also jam together as plane or bus seats as passengers tire, get drunk, frustrated and worried.  

The Irish influence makes its way into the music with the live band’s flutes and whistles mixed naturally with a bouzouki or guitar. The bodhran and drums are a steady and comforting heartbeat behind much of the show, often supported by gloriously grounded stomping and step dancing choreography. Props to the band, too, for the rousing finish in a version of a Newfoundland kitchen party.  

The songs are heartwarming and fun – from the assured stompy proclamation of Welcome to the Rock, to the plaintive Prayer and the celebratory Costume Party. Zoe Gertz shines on Me and the Sky as Beverley Bass, the first female American Airlines captain as she sings of her love for flying.  

Humans are often at their best in the worst of circumstances. Come From Away is proof that even in the darkest of nights each of us can choose to embody great compassion, friendship and love. It’s the highest praise that this production actively cultivates these traits.   

Come From Away is at Crown Theatre until 28 May 2023 

Pictured top: The cast from ‘Come From Away’ handle multiple roles with aplomb. Photo: Jeff Busby

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Author —
Ara Jansen

Ara Jansen is a freelance journalist. Words, bright colour, books, music, art, fountain pens, good conversation, interesting people and languages make her deeply happy. A longtime music journalist and critic, she’s the former music editor of The West Australian. Being in the pool next to the playground is one of her favourite places, ever.

Past Articles

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    A collaboration between Thirsty Merc’s Rai Thistlethwayte and WAAPA’s contemporary music students showcases creativity and talent. It’s also loads of fun, writes Ara Jansen.

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    Singer-songwriter Sarah Blasko may not seem like an obvious choice of composer for Bell Shakespeare’s retelling of Twelfth Night, but as she tells Ara Jansen, there’s more to this comedy than initially meets the eye.

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