This Canadian musical kicked off in Ontario back in 2013 before finally making its way to Broadway in 2017. Now, in 2019, the town of Gander has landed in Melbourne for its Australian premiere at the Comedy Theatre. Come From Away takes place in the week following the 9/11 attacks, where 38 planes and almost 7,000 passengers were diverted and ordered to land in the small town of Gander, Newfoundland. The story is heavily comedic but doesn’t forget to focus on the seriousness and emotion of the situation with themes of culture heavily strewn throughout the show.
One thing to notice from the opening is the fact that the staging is limited to a bunch of wooden chairs. This is no cause for concern, as the way these chairs are used to build the various locations is remarkable. It proves that all you need are 16 chairs and a strong story to be able to visualise and build the rest up in your mind. Whether on a plane, in a church, in a bar, or on a clifftop, the staging is incredible in its minimalistic qualities relying on the strength of the performances to bring out the details of the spaces.
The performances from the entire cast are stellar, everyone has a tight grip on the multiple roles they each play, and everyone in here makes an impression that is memorable well after leaving the theatre. The cast of 12 are each responsible for multiple roles; and through subtle costume changes, accents, and mannerisms it’s clear throughout who everyone is playing at each and every moment. The music is a big part of this production and the entire cast prove their talents through incredible upbeat musical numbers. The music is infectious and is one element of the production you do not want to miss. The strongest singing performance is from Zoe Gertz, who plays Beverly. She has an incredibly powerful voice and stands out through all of the group numbers she is apart of. Her solo musical number is one of the biggest and most impactful moments of the show and she delivers without a struggle.
Come From Away‘s core focus is on the comedy and it does not disappoint as, from beginning to end, it is hilarious with many memorable comedic moments. It keeps you laughing with one-off jokes that hit and recurring jokes that amazingly never get old. Even after having seen the show twice, the key funny moments are still effective. Both times the crowd erupted in unanimous laughter at every joke, along with applause at the funniest moments, and a standing ovation at the end. When it comes to the comedy, each of the performers deliver with comedic moment specific to their characters. It’s hard to pick a standout when it comes to the humour as they’re all so good, but Richard Piper (Claude), Emma Powell (Beulah), Simon Maiden (Oz), and Sarah Morrison (Janice) are all fantastic in their roles.
It may be a very comedic musical, however, it doesn’t forget to highlight the seriousness of the subject matter it is based on; which adds a nice emotional touch to the story. It integrates some minor subplots to highlight some of the cultural issues that arose from the event and the way it severely impacted the lives of people who were and also who were not stuck in Gander. This creates an extra layer of enjoyment that makes it educational as well as fun and comedic. This is also not out of place either, the tones all fit and work well with the overall feel of the production.
As someone who has seen it twice I can more than recommend checking this one out, rather, it’s in your best interest to see it as it makes for a fun and laughs-filled night out. With meaningful themes, strong performances, amazing staging, and infectious music, Come From Away is one of the must-see productions of the year.
FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Come From Away is in Melbourne at the Comedy Theatre through to November 10th. For more information and to purchase tickets head HERE.
The reviewer attended the performance on 18 July 2019.
Photo credit: Jeff Busby