Regional Reviews: Wisconsin, SE
Come from AwayNational Tour
Come from Away, a musical by Irene Sankoff and David Hein, directed by Christopher Ashley, is produced by a phalanx of Canadians and Americans (led by Junkyard Dog Productions), and no doubt other ethnicities, to pull off a sprawling work with a cast of only 12 and very little staging. (The chief component of the set is a wall of what looks like decaying wood, through the cracks in which various lights shine for different scenes. Doors cut into the wall let characters stride onto the stage. The rest of the set comprises chairs and tables, which are rearranged as needed, and a row of trees upstage. A large revolve takes up most of the center of the stage. The band is situated behind the trees.)
The story concerns the sudden arrival on September 11, 2001, of dozens of airliners, forbidden to land in the United States, at Gander airport in Newfoundland, Canada. The first scene shows the locals in a town that contains barely more people than the total number of passengers. The multiple characters include a woman whose son is a firefighter in New York City and isn't answering his phone; an English businessman on his way to a conference in Dallas who falls in love with an American passenger; two gay men, each called Kevin, who are having relationship difficulties; a local worker for a home for pets who has to deal with the pets (including a pregnant bonobo) on the plane; an Arab master chef who is unjustly profiled as a potential terrorist; and more.
The trick behind the economy of resources is that each actor plays multiple roles. Thus, an actor could play both a local and a passenger, and it is a credit to the cast that it is clear immediately who is speaking.
Speaking of "speaking," the cast who represent the Canadian half speak in Newfoundland-inflected English (dialect coach, Joel Goldes). Over a powerful sound system (the theater has four balconies, a mezzanine, and an orchestra, so it's B-I-G) and pouring on the dialect, a lot of the dialog is hard to catch. (An informal poll of a few couples leaving the theater suggests that more than one audience member had this issue.) Dialing down the dialect would give the audience a flavor without smothering them. No doubt the real Newfoundlanders are incomprehensible to Americans, but rendering stage characters in the same voice means they're still incomprehensible. Realism doesn't mean aural photography. That said, the audience "gets" enough of the dialog to keep them intently focused on the story, and the cast scored a standing ovation at the performance I atteended.
The music underscores the arc of the story through a kaleidoscope of moods, from elation through lots of laughs to tears. It's a pleasure not to be bombarded with homages to Sondheim and Lloyd Webber, great as they are. No doubt the composer(s)' style will become more familiar as the years go on.
Come from Away runs through November 20, 2022, at the Overture Center, 201 State St., Madison WI. For tickets and information, call 608-258-4141, or visit www.overture.org. For more information on the tour, visit comefromaway.com.
Music, book, and lyrics: Irene Sankoff and David Hein
Cast: Kristen Peace, Harter Clingman, Marika Aubrey, Julia Knitel, James Earl Jones II, Kevin Carolan, Jeremy Woodard, James Kall, Ali Momen, Danielle K. Thomas, Julie Johnson, Christine Toy Johnson.
Scenic Design, Beowulf Boritt; Costume Design, Toni-Leslie James; Lighting Design, Howell Binkley; Sound Design, Gareth Owen; Orchestrations, August Eriksmoen; Arrangements, Ian Eisendrath; Music Coordinator, David Lai; Hair Design, David Brian Brown.