ELLY GRIMM • Leader & Times
Most people throughout the world have at least some memory or story of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and where they were. Monday commemorates the 22nd anniversary of the event and earlier this week, I wanted to find something to review that related to that.
Being a musical fan, I ultimately decided on the pro shot of the show “Come From Away,” which tells the true story of 7,000 people from many different countries and walks of life who were stranded in the small town of Gander, Newfoundland after all flights into the US were grounded the week of Sept. 11, 2001. As the people of Newfoundland graciously welcome the “come from aways” into their community in the aftermath, the passengers and locals alike process what’s happened while finding love, laughter, and new hope in the unlikely and lasting bonds they forge. I’d heard of the show before, and I’d only listened to the cast recording once or twice before hearing of the pro shot being available, which came to Apple TV in 2021. With that in mind, I actually went into the show somewhat blind, which ultimately ended up being a benefit.
Overall, the show is absolutely beautiful and I was taken in right from the opening number, “Welcome to the Rock,” which shows how everyone thought 9/11 was going to be another average day, even all the way in Canada. It’s very energetic and captures the feeling of going about a normal day before the chaos to come, and that shift is very subtly felt as the song goes on. I enjoyed the rest of the music throughout the show and found it all absolutely stunning, particularly a scene later on in the show when the characters make their way to houses of worship around the town which features a few different religious songs. The scene is an absolutely stunning show of how religions CAN (and should, in my mind) coexist in the world and I have to admit I shed a few tears. The show’s epilogue and final scenes are also very emotional and stunning and capped everything off perfectly.
The show also does a good job of balancing the seriousness of the events while also injecting some humor throughout. A great example of this happens at the beginning when the Newfoundlanders are coordinating supplies and other necessities (including women’s hygiene products, in a very funny scene). There’s also a scene later on where everyone is gathered at a local bar for a party to help the stranded passengers feel better about the ongoing events, and it’s very fun to watch. The more emotional scenes are written so, so well, including the scenes where the plane passengers are frantically trying to find ways to contact loved ones back in the U.S. I have to admit those scenes were slightly odd to watch because I had to remind myself how even in the early 2000s, not everyone had cell phones at their disposal. The show does a great job portraying the worldwide chaos of 9/11 and throughout the show, there were multiple times when I couldn’t help but think “Those poor people were basically like the Energizer Bunny on steroids in order to get everything coordinated for those poor passengers,” and all the actors portrayed the mood swings everyone goes through during such a chaotic time.
The technical aspects of the show were also very interesting to take in. The set design is minimal and includes only a handful of tables and a group of mismatched chairs, all of which are used fluidly throughout the show, whether the scene takes place at the community shelter or an airplane. As minimal as the set design is, however, they are able to help paint the picture for the audience as the show goes on. The lighting used in the show is also very cleverly done and there were multiple moments where I legitimately said out loud “That was CLEVER.” One moment I found particularly cool came near the beginning when the Air Traffic Control crew are working to help coordinate the 38 total flights that ultimately ended up coming through the community, and it legitimately looked like the inside of a typical emergency dispatch office, ALL because of the lighting design.
The only minor complaint I have with the show was with the cast. However, it wasn’t the cast members’ talent that was the problem, but the fact that every cast member actually portrayed multiple people in the show, so there were multiple moments that were kind of confusing as far as trying to keep up with who was who. I feel like if the number of characters had been reduced, or if there were more cast members, that aspect would have been a little smoother. My overall favorite cast members were Jenn Colella (who was nominated for a Tony for the show) as Annette, pilot Beverley Bass and others, and Astrid Van Wieren as Beulah Davis and others. Both women were able to make their characters totally separate from each other, and Colella especially has an absolutely powerhouse voice during her songs. Overall, the entire cast did a fantastic job.
Overall, I enjoyed my first official viewing of “Come From Away,” and I would give the show an overall “A” grade. The music flows so well throughout the show and drew me in right from the opening number. The overall story is also portrayed very well and there were multiple emotional moments that drew a few tears, particularly near the end. The technical aspects of the show were also great to take in, with the lighting and set designs helping fully set the picture for the audience. Overall, “Come From Away” would be a good one to cue up if you happen to have Apple TV.