If President Trump were seeking a Broadway show to see, I would recommend the vibrant musical “Come from Away,” because it might teach him something about hospitality to foreigners. The show, which originated in Canada, packs more energy in its 100-minute intermission-less running time than numerous other shows combined as it deals with the open-hearted hospitality that citizens of Gander, Newfoundland, extended to American and international passengers on planes forced to land there when the catastrophe of 9/11 resulted in grounding of aircraft (38 in Gander) because of fear that more attacks might be in the works. Instead of erecting barriers, the musical, based on real events, dramatizes how residents invited folks into their homes, fed them and offered friendship.
The genius of this production, which I regard as the best new musical of the season, is that from the very beginning a skilled group of 12 actors, via word and song, thrillingly take on assorted roles and slip in and out of the characters in a free-flowing staging, under the savvy direction of Christopher Ashley and musical staging by Kelly Devine. The result is amazing ensemble work, and that includes the musicians, stationed on either side of the stage and sometimes getting into the action, as well as providing a post-curtain-call jam session.
The musical has book, music and lyrics by Irene Sankoff and David Hein. (The show has been performed elsewhere before arriving on Broadway, and it has a host of producers.) I checked my watch after about 15 minutes and was surprised at how much story and characterization had already been delineated in the swift staging.
We meet the citizens of Gander, hear about local problems, like a strike, and get to know the mayor and others. We also are introduced to those on a plane, their anxieties and personal stories. In the course of the stay a British gentleman and a woman from Texas fall for each other. A woman whose son is a firefighter in New York hungers to know whether he is safe or not.
There is an especially wonderful scene when two gay men from the aircraft interact with locals but are hesitant to admit they are gay in such a provincial environment. To their surprise, several of the locals burst forth with revelations of having gay family members and friends.
I can’t begin to count the number of characters who crop up throughout, thanks to the work of cast members Petrina Bromley, Geno Carr, Jenn Colella, Joel Hatch, Rodney Hicks, Kendra Kassebaum, Chad Kimball, Lee MacDougall, Caesar Samayoa, Q. Smith, Astrid Van Wieren and Sharon Wheatley. (At the performance I saw Tony Lepage subbed for Kimball.)
The goodhearted nature of “Come from Away” is at the forefront without being cloyingly sentimental, and there is plenty of humor in attitudes and the fast-moving lyrics. The show appeals to our finer qualities as human beings, and manages to be exuberantly entertaining at the same time.
Beowulf Boritt’s scenic design consists of huge tree trunks at both sides of the stage, and various movable elements that help keep the show zipping along. The total effect adds up to welcome helpings of freshness and enthusiasm. At the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 West 45th Street. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed May 17, 2017.