Rarely over the decades have I seen an audience leap to its feet as quickly as when the last note was sung last night at the world premiere of Come From Away.
This bravura production tells the improbable and delightfully true story of the tiny Newfoundland town that was home for 38 planes and passengers on September 11, 2001.
Irene Sankoff and David Hein are the husband and wife team that worked for five years developing the book, music and lyrics of Come From Home. Through the eyes mostly of the townspeople of Gander and then also through the eyes of ‘the plane people’ the story unfolds quickly.
Given that everyone in the audience has a clear recollection of where they were on 9/11, transporting the action to a Canadian community of 10,000 is surprisingly easy. The mayor, the cop, the teacher and nine others represent Gander. With incredibly well-choreographed movement and lighting, the action of the twelve actors shifts to those flying and then landing and then disembarking. Kudos to Kelly Devine (choreography) and Howell Binkley (lighting).
The melodies have a decidedly rock feel, with a generous dollop of tasty Newfoundland musical spice care of Bob Hallett.
The confusion on the ground is matched with the fear in the sky. “Blankets and Bedding” has the townspeople preparing for the unknown number of visitors, and “28 Hours / Wherever We Are” tells the parallel plight of the visitors.
At the very center of the play, in terms of plot, timing and theme, is an incredibly powerful song called “Prayer.” In a sonic miracle, the hopes and fears of at least four major religions are harmonized.
Director Christopher Ashley pulls together an incredibly diverse number of characters and subplots. He balances a wide range of emotions effectively, from the laughter of various culture clashes (a black passenger is directed to round up grills from backyards for a mammoth barbecue, fearful of being shot) to the sadness of a lady whose Brooklyn firefighter son is missing in action.
This is an evening not to be missed. The buzz is already so strong that a second extension has been announced. Season subscriptions are selling at a record pace. Given the incredible track record of La Jolla Playhouse in sending productions to Broadway and beyond, Come From Away will undoubtedly join the list.