A 9/11-themed musical was all but inevitable, but it takes a most unexpected form in “Come From Away,” a sunny and overstuffed but well-meaning musical about the bizarre real-life circumstances under which a large group of people were indirectly affected by the tragic events.
As the terrorist attacks occurred, 38 airplanes were redirected from their intended international destinations to Gander, Newfoundland, at the northeast tip of North America, where a small rural village provided 6,579 stranded passengers with shelter, food, phones and moral support.
Under the precise direction of Christopher Ashley (“Memphis”), a tight-knit ensemble switches off between playing the kind and resilient residents of Gander (mayor, local news reporter, cop, bus driver) and the disoriented “plane people” (female pilot, gay male couple, mother of a firefighter, Orthodox Jew).
The musical (by Irene Sankoff and David Hein, a married Canadian writing team) is framed like a documentary, with the locals speaking directly to us and recalling their experiences. It essentially redefines the term “community theater.”
The cast is made of versatile performers including Broadway veterans such as Jenn Colella, Rodney Hicks, Chad Kimball and Kendra Kassebaum, who are able to handle the fast pace and quick changes.
It’s a heartwarming story told with high energy, not to mention an effective seminar on crisis management and a persuasive advertisement for Canadian tourism. (Not surprisingly, Justin Trudeau is expected to attend the show later this week.)
But good intentions aside, “Come From Away” has the depth of a Hallmark card and a pub rock score that is generic and unmemorable.
In attempting to keep track of so many different people at once without pause, few receive more than superficial treatment. This is especially problematic in the hurried depiction of an adult Muslim male who faces increased scrutiny and prejudice following the attacks.