BY CHRISTOPHER BYRNE | For all of us despairing about the indifference, blatant self-serving, and divisive hatred that define the current political regime, there is a welcome balm on the New York stage today in the form of the musical “Come From Away.” This show will make you feel good, if not euphoric, but it achieves that end not by being escapist entertainment but that by reminding us that there is goodness in people, that the desire to provide help and comfort in a times of crisis can transcend superficial differences between people. Most wonderfully, the show does this in a lighthearted, celebratory mode, made all the more moving because it’s based on a true story.
Planes in the air on 9/11 in the hours after the attacks in New York and Washington were not allowed to land in US airports, and so for nearly 40 aircraft and approximately 7,000 passengers, this meant being diverted to the airport at Gander, Newfoundland. Built largely as a refueling stop decades earlier, the advent of long haul carriers meant that Gander and its large airport were largely forgotten. This small town insulated from the world was thrown into chaos as it nearly doubled in size with the people from all over the world who, in local parlance, came from away. How the town responded by embracing the strangers and helping to ease their pain and disorientation is what makes up the plot.
With book, music, and lyrics by Irene Sankoff and David Hein, the show interweaves the stories of the people — and animals — displaced and scared by events with those of the town folk. The company’s 12 actors play multiple roles, adroitly juxtaposing individual stories against the larger issues of how a crisis of this magnitude is managed. In the end, the townspeople welcome the visitors into their homes and lives, regardless of whether they are gay, Muslim, or can’t speak English. Relationships are formed and some are broken, with humor and tragedy existing side-by-side. Sankoff and Hein have an uncanny ability to balance complex and disquieting emotions with comedy and also an evident belief in the power of the human spirit to overcome prejudices and fears.
The score is a synthesis of styles — Celtic, folk, country — that consistently works. The lyrics are inspired, cleverly capturing the way real people would talk and so achieving a level of everyday poetry that beautifully reveals characters.
The company is uniformly excellent. They work together as a flawless ensemble. In particular, Chad Kimball as one half of a gay couple and as a townsperson imbues both roles with heart and depth. Jenn Colella as an American Airlines pilot is a standout. I’ve long been a fan of hers, and her rendition of “Me and the Sky,” about how the thing she loves most, flying airplanes, has been irrevocably changed, soars. Under Christopher Ashley’s direction, the fast-paced story is masterfully told, making brilliant use of even the smallest details, clearly delineating each character, and leaving no heart untouched.
If the current political climate is causing you anxiety, you must see this show to be reminded that not everyone is as selfishly misanthropic as our current president. I just might need to go once a week for the next four years.
COME FROM AWAY | Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 W. 45th St. | Tue., Thu. at 7 p.m.; Wed., Fri.-Sat. at 8 p.m.; Wed., Sat. at 2 p.m. ; Sun. at 3 p.m. | $47-$167 at telecharge.com or 212-239-6200 | One hr., 40 mins., no intermission