Pat Launer, Center Stage on KSDS JAZZ88
June 19, 2015
“Welcome to the Rock!”
That’s how The Islanders spread their arms to you in the first moments of the magnificent new musical, “Come From Away.”
It’s the same open-hearted spirit, that small-town sense of community and proud survival at “the edge of the world,” that the residents offer to all those non-locals who ‘come from away.’
Gander is an airport outpost on the island of Newfoundland, which was formed millions of years ago by continental collision. Metaphorically, that kind of collision recurred in 2001.
After the September 11 tragedy, when the American airspace was closed, a whopping 38 planes were diverted to Gander. The nearly 7000 arrivals, from all over the world, effectively doubled the local population.
Over the course of five long days, these genial Gander folks turned into bona fide heroes, opening their homes and hearts to the strangers, whose lives were transformed by the experience.
“Come From Away,” written by young Canadian couple Irene Sankoff and David Hein, will soften even the most hardened cynic and restore your faith in humankind. The story is based in fact; the dialogue is taken from extensive interviews with the townspeople and their unexpected visitors. And magically, thrillingly, we somehow become a part of it, too.
We’re drawn to the many characters portrayed by a stellar ensemble of 12: the take-charge Mayor; sky-loving female pilot; bickering L.A. gay couple; two fearful New York African Americans; and an effervescent Texas gal and diffident Englishman who come together in the midst of calamity and chaos.
It’s not just the people who draw us in; it’s also the hand-clapping, foot-stomping music, a delicious mix of Irish, folk and rockabilly, played by a stupendous onstage and under-stage band.
In this world premiere co-production with Seattle Repertory Theatre, La Jolla Playhouse artistic director Christopher Ashley and choreographer Kelly Devine create a deceptively simple, propulsive and impeccably paced 100 minutes.
This is the most stirring and uplifting musical to come along in years. With humor and heart, it reminds us that, even in the darkest and most desperate of times, there can be light, hope and love.
“Come from Away ,” at the La Jolla Playhouse, has been extended through July 12.
©2015 PAT LAUNER