In today’s Wall Street Journal I review the Broadway transfer of Come From Away. Here’s an excerpt.
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On September 11, 2001, 38 commercial flights, most of them bound for the U.S., were abruptly diverted to Newfoundland’s Gander International Airport when North America’s air space was closed by Transport Canada and the FAA in the wake of terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. This forced the residents of Gander, a town of eleven thousand, to spend the next four days shouldering the collective responsibility of feeding and taking care of 6,600 unexpected guests, which they did with open-handed alacrity. Those four days are the subject of “Come From Away,” a Canadian musical written by Irene Sankoff and David Hein that has transferred to Broadway after preliminary runs in La Jolla, Ca., Seattle, and Washington, D.C. It’s a wonderful story, and I wish I could say that it’s been turned into an equally wonderful musical: You can’t help but root for such a show. But “Come From Away” is, in cold, hard point of fact, a gushily sentimental piece of theatrical yard goods that makes every mistake a musical can make.
The problems start right at the top. “Come From Away” is an unusually compact musical (100 minutes, no intermission) in which 12 actors portray a much larger number of “plane people” and locals. That’s perfectly feasible, but Ms. Sankoff and Mr. Hein have chosen to present the story of what happened in Gander on 9/11 in a tell-more-than-show manner, with the actors spending at least as much time describing events to the audience (“That morning, I drop my kids off at school…4:18 p.m. There’s a 747 with a flat tire blocking the runway”) as interacting directly with one another in dialogue scenes. The results play like a volume of oral-history transcripts set to music, and the decision of the authors not to focus tightly on specific characters results in a cluttered, top-heavy show with too much exposition and not nearly enough development. It doesn’t help that the characters, major and minor alike, are all walking clichés, as is absolutely everything that happens to them…
These problems might have been overcome to some extent had the score to “Come From Away” been more distinctive. Instead, Ms. Sankoff and Mr. Hein have given us 15 forgettable musical numbers, most of them fragmentary, whose music is a peppy mélange of folk, pop, country and Canadian-Irish jiggery-pokery and whose lyrics defy all attempts to remember them for longer than it takes to hear them sung…
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Read the whole thing here.
Some excerpts from Come From Away: