Come From Away

Come-From-Away-photo-by-Jeff-BusbyCanberra has waited a long time for this show. After two previous postponements, it has finally arrived. Is it worth the wait? Absolutely!

When if finishes this season in the Canberra Theatre on 9 July, this remarkable production will have been touring Australian cities, on and off, for exactly 4 years.

The ‘Ons” have broken records. The Melbourne production became the Comedy Theatre’s most successful musical in its history. The ‘Offs” were interruptions to the touring schedule caused by the Covid epidemic. This season in Canberra will be the last stop in a long tour.

So does the show look a bit tired? Not a bit! The energy level of the cast at this opening performance was off the Richter scale.

Come From Away” is a unique musical in that it tells the story of a real-life event of which most of us were unaware until this show. People depicted in the production still live in Gander, a relatively small community in Newfoundland, which on September 11, 2001, found it playing host to 7000 stranded airline passengers from all over world.

The brilliance of this show, and a reason why it has been so successful, is the remarkable way the writers, husband and wife team, Irene Sankoff and David Hein, have encapsulated hundreds of individual stories into one engrossing show in which the actors portray both the passengers and the townsfolk of Gander.

Their writing is supported by brilliant direction by Christopher Ashley and Kelly Devine who’ve devised a deceptively simple staging which allows an ensemble cast of outstanding actors who have had to master the unique dialect of the Newfoundlanders, as well as the accents of stranded passengers from around the world, to portray a multitude of characters in a way that the audience can empathise with each and every character.

Some of this cast including Zoe Gertz who plays Beverly the airline pilot trainer, Emma Powell who plays the earth mother, Beulah, and Douglas Hansell who plays one of the Kevins (there are two characters called Kevin), have been with the show since it’s very opening night in Melbourne. Their performances are still as committed and affecting as ever.

While the singing of  the cast throughout  is excellent, Gertz has the vocal highlight with a stunning rendition of Me and the Sky, a story song which traces the career of her airflight trainer character, Beverly.

Emma Powell captures the laughs with her ebullient portrayal of the kind-hearted earthmother, Beulah, who forms an affecting relationship with the distressed Hannah, superbly portrayed by Sarah Nairne, who’s anxious for news from New York of her firefighter son.

Natalie O’Donnell and Phillip Lowe delight with their portrayal of the mismatched couple, Dianne and Nick, Manon Gunderson-Briggs charms as the frayed young radio announcer, Janice, charged with broadcasting Gander’s predicament to the world, while Kyle Brown is a stand-out in several roles but particularly as the young Muslim treated with suspicion by the other passengers.

Those though are just a selection from the excellent performances by all the cast. You will find your own favourites. It would be remiss however not to mention the remarkable lighting, the excellent sound through-out, and the superb band led by Michael Tyack, which joins in the ensemble scenes and provides a surprise highlight at the end of the show.

This is a must-see show which provides a powerful reminder of how powerful acts of human kindness can be during moments of unbearable stress.

Come From Away
Canberra Theatre – Canberra Theatre Centre, Civic Square, London Circuit, Canberra
Performance: Thursday 8 June 2023
Season continues to 9 July 2023

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Image: The Cast and Musicians of Come From Away – photo by Jeff Busby

Review: Bill Stephens OAM