“Come From Away” gives real hope with depth and complexity

While every worthwhile story should contain tension, even conflict and resolution, perhaps the best stories are also about the best in us – the love that humanity is capable of, for example. .

The long-awaited Broadway run of the 2017 Tony Award-winning musical “Come From Away,” now in production at DeVos Performance Hall in Grand Rapids, is exactly that kind of story, exquisitely told.

This Canadian-based tale, written by Irene Sankoff and David Hein and directed by Christopher Ashley, is set in Granger, Newfoundland, a place where “everything begins and ends at Tim Horton’s”, according to its mayor, a small place in Canada with a major airport where 38 planes were hijacked on September 11, 2001, instantly increasing the population from 9,000 to 16,000, dropping “7,000 scared and angry people who don’t want to be here” into the open arms of the residents who stop at nothing to ensure that they are sheltered and welcomed.

Based on a true story, it offers a remarkable 9/11 memorial that highlights the extraordinary kindness and hospitality of ordinary people in the face of a horrific tragedy. It captures something beautiful and uplifting that emerges from a terrible moment in history reminding us of who we really are when we come together for our highest good and sincere concern for one another.

This is exactly the reminder we need at this particularly divisive moment in history.

Particularly because it’s such a glorious joy to see this diverse cast of 12 multiple characters, each a distinct Newfoundlander as well as a displaced passenger. There’s tremendous efficiency in this show that doesn’t draw attention to itself, including a Beowulf Boritt-designed set largely made up of chairs that actors pick up and move around to create distinct spaces: an airplane , a cafe, a bus, a bar, a cliff, to name a few – on a turntable that allows tremendous movement over a finite space.

Sometimes the present is juxtaposed with the past as they travel through time through memory and song with truly moving numbers such as “By and the Sky” by Marika Aubrey and company as well as “Somewhere in the Middle of Nowhere”.

The score is shot through with a strong Celtic influence played to tremendous effect with great energy by a fabulous 8 piece orchestra led by Cameron Moncur playing on stage, nestled amongst the floor to ceiling trees on either side of the stage, although they also join a bar scene for a big traditional session.

The subtext of the Irish diaspora and its cultural traditions is present here (warm hospitality, rhythmic language, music and dance), as is the subtle fact that refugees are warmly welcomed with the implicit belief that if the roles were reversed, they would prolong the same care.

His earnestness as well as the irony implied given our current cultural moment is enough to make us think. There’s a real depth here that eschews sentimentality. And while there are some underdeveloped, even implausible, subplots and scenes, the xenophobic treatment of Muslims is deftly addressed.

Every character is vividly drawn and fully embodied, from the city mayor to the pilot to the mother of a New York firefighter, an anxious gay couple, an Egyptian master chef, an awkward British and Texan divorcee who finds solace in each company of the other. Seeing how this tense situation pushes each of them to change is a beautiful unfoldment and a reminder of who we are, where we’ve been, where we’ve come from, and how much we’ve lost.

“Come From Away” takes us on a rollercoaster of emotion that, as a live performance, takes us so much further than Apple+ movie production. And to see him side by side with thousands of strangers who, given the chance – after remembering the extraordinary kindness, love and generosity of which humans are capable in the worst times – could shelter and care for each other? It has a lasting impact.

If this is the legacy of 9/11, then there is a lot of hope for us – on midterm election day and beyond.

Come from afar
Broadway Grand Rapids
November 8-13

Sharon D. Cole