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Theatre Review: Come From Away comes home

Review for the new sit-down Toronto production of COME FROM AWAY, now playing at the Royal Alexandra Theatre. | Review for the new sit-down Toronto production of COME FROM AWAY, now playing at the Royal Alexandra Theatre.
Review for the new sit-down Toronto production of COME FROM AWAY, now playing at the Royal Alexandra Theatre. | Review for the new sit-down Toronto production of COME FROM AWAY, now playing at the Royal Alexandra Theatre.

The majestic Canadian musical Come From Away delivers on the lofty promise it made upon leaving for Broadway just over a year ago. The musical’s new production, now back in Toronto, has come home an international sensation and bonafide hit.

More importantly, it’s come home different from when it left after it’s pre-Broadway tryout from late 2016. It’s come from away and returned as the most successful Canadian production in Broadway history, both critically and commercially.

Now back in Toronto following its New York landing, the musical has matured into a wholly astounding experience. It’s not just the featured Newfoundlanders, Canadian history nuts and local patriots who can feel how emotionally resonant the play is.

The careful insight and intelligence by writers Irene Sankoff and David Hein make the island world relatable to all audiences. They understand the show’s heart is the stark, natural environment of Newfoundland and the compassionate trust of its people.

Oakville also has a special connection to the play; it was first presented at Sheridan College’s Trafalgar campus. It’s origins come from workshops and performances in 2012 as part of the then-new Canadian Music Theatre Project.

Come From Away is an unmissable theatrical phenomenon

After wowing audiences across North America, the show has cemented itself as a homegrown treasure. And because this copy from Broadway has returned to Mirvish’s Royal Alexandra Theatre for an open run, everyone now has the chance to see it the formerly impossible ticket.

Who could have imagined the show’s runaway success? The story has a delicate and rare mix of subject matter. If you’d suggested it as musical comedy ten years ago, you’d have been laughed at mercilessly.

The true story (for anyone who hears “Hamilton” and thinks of the city before the musical) takes place in Gander, Newfoundland in the week following September 11, 2001. When 38 planes and 7,000 passengers from around the world are grounded, the town opens its doors and welcomes the “come from aways” into the community.

Mirvish’s new local production boasts an all-Canadian company adding something truly special to the play. This hometown cast has all the precision, focus and talent the original did - but they perform with an unmatched sense of national pride. You can feel their ownership, heightened authenticity and sense of purpose through every note.

Twelve courageous actors share equal credit and thanks for portraying both the Gander community and a diverse collection of global passengers. They collectively play over a hundred characters, each as grounded and compelling as the others.

The actual performance is awe-inspiring in and of itself

It’s rare to find a company of actors so compact and solidly united. They barely stop throughout the musical’s 100 breathless minutes; they keep your attention with their rock-solid characterizations and a refreshing vulnerability in both their acting and singing.

The truly captivating moments throughout are the large, continuous ensemble numbers that drive most of the play’s action. “28 Hours” shows hundreds of the same passengers restless waiting to know what’s going on aboard the planes. Meanwhile, “Blankets and Bedding” is a hysterical scene of the town scrambling to get emergency shelters ready for their new guests.

These creatively staged scenes by director Christopher Ashley (last year’s Tony winner for his work on the show) are what makes the show different. This nonstop action and seamless mix of songs without obvious breaks is unusual in musical theatre.

Maybe it’s also what makes the show so energizing and dynamic. The show-stopping bar scene “Screech In” is the best example of how all the elements combine. The pulse-pounding Atlantic rhythms with fast direction and warm, hilarious characters come together in an electrifying spectacle.

It's equally dazzling for new and returning audiences

If you’ve seen the show before, don’t be fooled by the similar designs. Beowulf Boritt’s rustic wood sets and Howell Binkley’s sharp lighting is nearly identical. The tone and feel of the show, however, has only intensified over time.

The show’s intricate staging and complexity are just as clean and organic as the original production’s - if not better. This new sit-down production was my third viewing of the musical, and I still found several new elements, details, and lyrics to discover and appreciate.

For new audiences, however, it delivers the same emotional wallop theatres across North America have felt since its professional debut in 2015. Come From Away is a breathtaking event from beginning to end.

What’s most satisfying about this new production is also hardest to describe. This new cast exudes the strongest responsibility and pride of a story I’ve seen from the cast of any show. You can feel how personally meaningful performing this show is to each of them.

That powerful resonance and a cathartic relationship between the actors and audience is the hardest to describe because words can’t effectively convey this impact. That too is part of the excitement of seeing live theatre in the first place.

Outstanding works with triumphant human spirit is the very thing that makes theatre so compelling. Come From Away has endless charm and wisdom that will continue its reputation as one of our country’s greatest creations for the stage.

It’s a gift and welcome pleasure that Newfoundland has come home to Toronto. Let’s hope it stays grounded for a very long time.

Come From Away
4 out of 4 Stars

Rated 10+. 100 minutes. Musical History Comedy.
Book, Music and Lyrics by Irene Sankoff and David Hein.
Directed by Christopher Ashley.

Starring Saccha Dennis, Steffi Didomenicantonio, Barbara Fulton, Lisa Horner, James Kall, George Masswohl, Ali Momen, Jack Noseworthy, Cory O'Brien, Kristen Peace, Eliza-Jane Scott and Kevin Vidal.

Now Playing at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, 260 King Street West, Toronto, ON. Runs until Oct. 21, 2018. Tickets range $69-205. Tickets available online here or by calling 416-872-1212.