|Come From Away|
by Willard Manus
COME FROM AWAY, the feel-good touring musical now at the Ahmanson, tells the story of Gander, Newfoundland in the days following 9/11 when some 7,000 air travelers were stuck there for a week when their planes were grounded for security reasons.
Gander was once a major airport, a refueling stop for international flights. It returned to the limelight when all those passengers and crew were dumped there by the airlines (on orders from the U.S. State Department). The town, population 10,000 spontaneously came to the aid of those beleagured folk, providing food, shelter and spiritual support.
COME FROM AWAY has a cast of a dozen actors who each play multiple roles, switching from towns-person to tourist and back with astonishing ease and swiftness. They also sing and dance, powered by Irene Sankoff and David Hein's Gaelic-flavored musical score. The result is a production that mixes showmanship and pizzazz with the darkness and pain of 9/11.
Among the key characters are Beverly (Becky Gulsvig), an American Airlines pilot; Beulah (Julie Johnson), a teacher who turned her school into a shelter; Hannah (Danielle K. Thomas), a mother fearing for the fate of her New York firefighter son; Kevin J. (Nick Duckart) and Kevin T. (Andrew Samonsky), a gay couple; and Nick (Chamblee Gerguson) and Diane (Christine Toy Johnson), a British businessman and a young American gal who manage to fall in love during this most trying of weeks.
Sankoff and Hein, who visited Gander and interviewed many of the locals who were involved in the Good Samaritan efforts, discovered some little-known and remarkable stories, such as the campaign launched by a towns-woman on behalf of the many animals locked away in airplane holds-including, of all things, a chimpanzee.
Compassion and goodwill toward all creatures large and small was the order of the day in Gander. The outpouring of humanity that characterized Gander's response to the tragedy of 9/11 is an inspiration to us all.
COME FROM AWAY was first co-produced in 2015 by La Jolla Playhouse, whose artistic director Christopher Ashley directed the show. Ashley, who won a Tony when COME FROM AWAY was done in New York, is still with the show, which is undoubtedly one of the main reasons for its success.
(Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave. For tickets and information call 213-972-4400 or visit centertheatregroup.org)