Every now and then you see a show that lets you know you are part of something special and that the world can be a wonderful place even in our darkest hours. This week in Brisbane it was the award – winning worldwide smash hit musical, Come From Away. SheSociety were delighted to be invited to Opening Night, where our seats were so close to the stage that we felt like we were a part of the show. With music, story, book and lyrics written by Irene Sankoff and David Hein, this little musical that could, is uplifting, humble and full of humanity.
You probably already know the remarkable true story of Gander and September 11, 2001. With US airspace closed for the first time in history, 38 planes were diverted to the island of Newfoundland (known as “the rock”). On board each plane were people from around the world. People who were exhausted, shocked and unsure of what was coming next. Come From Away shares the stories behind the story, of the ‘plane people ‘, the townsfolk and the tireless crews who manned these aeroplanes.
Producer Rodney Rigby says, “This play was designed to tour through schools in Canada. That was our hope, but it turned into so much more. Premiering in La Jolla Playhouse in 2015 it was received so well. We began touring towns in the USA where the ‘come from away’ folk lived, before taking it up to Canada. Today in normal times there would be five touring groups of Come From Away touring the globe.”
But these are not normal times and right now this production is the only one in the world that is going ahead.
The Australian cast of twelve talented actors focused on one planeload of travellers who were making their way home from Paris to Dallas and the myriad of townspeople who were there to greet them, feed and house them and make them feel at home, but these good people did so much more. They introduced them to their customs, smoothed over cultural differences and provided an ear and a shoulder in a time of crisis. This little known place, with an accent that gives a nod to a range of cultures, with a Celtic style of music and with a heart as big as Texas, was home to these ‘ come from aways’ for five whole days.
Now you might be worried that a show about 9/11 would be upsetting and you will become emotional at times….. but the skilful writers don’t let you dwell for long. There is music and laughter, even a little romance. Come From Away is suitable for every age and stage, as it focuses on humanity, kindness and generosity. It shows the power of the human spirit and how much we can achieve when we band together as one.
Zoe Gertz was powerful as Beverley Bass and her vocals were soaring. Zoe has been with the Australian production since 2019 and was a standout for me. She also stepped into the role of Newfoundlander, Annette which enabled her to show her comedic side. She had me laughing out loud. Zoe nailed the Texan accent and told me that there were vocal coaches who carefully train them and made sure their accents didn’t slip as the season moved on. Her solo turn with ‘ Me and The Sky ‘ was a highlight for this writer, with its inspiring lyrics taken from Beverley’s Bass’ original interview and Zoe’s strong and confident voice.
Zoe is joined on stage by real life husband, Phillip Lowe, who plays shy English businessman, Nick.His burgeoning romance with Texan, Katrina Retallick ( Diane) is sweet and their characterisation was gentle and believable.
Kolby Kindle was hilarious and really a presence on stage as Bob and others. Sharriese Hamilton portrayed the character of Hannah, beautifully. Her concern for her son was deft and measured without moving into melodrama and that voice of hers was magnificent. Queensland’s own Sarah Morrison ( Mamma Mia, Ladies In Black) kept the pace moving and filled in the gaps with narration as young journalist , Janice.
The ensemble cast were strong and created a cohesive whole while mirroring the diversity found in the world. Many played multiple roles and had to swap from accent to accent. Considered costuming and props helped the characters move through changes seamlessly. It is obvious that they all know they are a part of something special.
Come From Away was directed by Christopher Ashley with musical staging from Kelly Devine and musical supervision by Ian Eisendrath. Special mention must go to the energetic band who began the play with the distinctive throbbing pulse of the bodhran (a Celtic frame drum reminiscent of someone dancing on a wooden floor) and the music which continued to twist, turn and evolve as the story played out on stage. The music combines the traditional Celtic instruments played in Newfoundland with instruments from around the world creating a distinctive sound that reflects the eclectic mix of people found on the planes. It is rollicking and makes you feel like doing a jig.
As the musical came to its amazing finale, with the cast in full voice, the audience leapt to their feet as one for a standing ovation. I have never seen people so quick to their feet. The band kept playing as the crowd clapped, cheered and stomped.
Come From Away will make you laugh, cry, tug at your heartstrings and remind you of human resilience and the power of kindness. Thanks to Cinnamon Watson for this special invitation. I will be going along again. Come From Away will be showing at the Lyric Theatre, QPAC until May 9. It will remind you of what is truly important in life and shows that when the world feels dark there is always hope.
Freelance writer, wife and mother of three sons, occasional supply teacher and aspiring romance author, Michelle Beesley can be most often found in a coffee shop chatting with friends or beside a rugby field cheering on her favourite teams.
Michelle is a prolific—albeit reluctant—traveller, keen walker, bookworm and yoga enthusiast who loves anything pink or sparkly (including champagne!).