Words by Simon Button
Labelling Come From Away as ‘The 9/11 musical’ would make it sound morbid at best, tasteless at worst. It’s neither of those things.
Inspired by true-life events that occurred in the aftermath of the September 11th terrorist attacks, it isn’t really about 9/11 at all – it’s about the best of humanity in the worst of circumstances.
With a book, music and lyrics by Irene Sankoff and David Hein (whose previous show, trivia fans, was about a lesbian Wiccan wedding so one can only hope it makes it to these shores some day) the show is set in the small town of Gander, Newfoundland, where the population was almost doubled as planes from all around the world were suddenly grounded there during the post-attack airspace shutdown.
Into Gander come a smorgasbord of colourful characters, like American Airlines’ first female captain (played with spunkiness to spare by Rachel Tucker, the standout in an outstanding cast),an ageing Brit singleton who finds love on the other side of the Atlantic, a Muslim chef who exposes prejudice and a gay couple who fear they’ll be scorned only to find themselves embraced.
The locals are equally colourful and they’re an all-pull-together bunch who embody the show’s message: That in the worst of times we are often the best versions of ourselves.
The music is a lively mix of folk and rock, propelling the narrative forward. Momentum is also achieved by the remarkably hard-working performers, who flit between passengers and townsfolk as they deftly spin chairs to suggest planes, buses, bars and temporary homes.
Arriving in the UK from Broadway during upheaval on both sides of the pond, Come From Away preaches tolerance and good neighbourliness and it does so with a lightness of touch.
It’s witty as well as poignant, funny as well as sad – a show that grounds its characters in one spot but takes flight as a truly uplifting piece of musical theatre.
Come From Away is at the Phoenix Theatre, London. For great deals on tickets and shows click here.