The joy of finally returning to live theatre in Melbourne is exponentially magnified by the heart lifting humanity of the first musical to reopen, Come From Away.
While theatres sadly remain shuttered in Broadway and the West End, the Melbourne encore season of Come From Away has the distinction of being the only production of the worldwide hit musical to be currently playing.
After almost a year away from theatre, the return to the shared pleasure of live performance was always going to be a welcome experience. Come From Away brings added enjoyment in that its story thrives upon the power of social interaction, an aspect that has been sorely missed during extended periods of isolation. Viewed after months of frustration at the selfishness and stupidity of people who flaunt safety protocols, the unbridled generosity and utter selflessness of the people of Gander are a tonic indeed.
Watching Come From Away is also something of a cathartic experience at this point of the world pandemic. The week following September 11, 2001 sees people move through shock, disbelief, personal discomfort, a call to action and a slow but welcome recovery. It is like seeing the emotions of the past year telescoped into one evening, with an ultimate message of positivity and hope.
Come From Away remains a peak example of the integrated craft of modern musical theatre. Deftly woven into storytelling that skips breathlessly across myriad moments, music sweeps the action along in a way that would surely just be chaotic in a play. The book, music and lyrics of Irene Sankoff and David Hein reveal new gems at every repeated viewing of the show. The subtlety of the character-based humour is a delight and the moments of sorrow land with pain that is gently tempered by tender warmth.
With the smallest of costume changes, the dozen highly talented cast members create a multitude of memorable characters, ably supported by the pinpoint lighting design of Howell Binkley and the razor-sharp sound design of Gareth Owen. The cast has deftly returned to the blazing energy levels required to fulfill the constant motion of Christopher Ashley’s direction. At present, there is surely an extra sparkle in the eyes of these cast members reflecting their own joy at returning to the theatre.
Continuing under the expert leadership of musical director Luke Hunter, the on-stage musicians generate added sparks to the electric atmosphere. The band’s dynamic playoff after the curtain calls is show in its own right.
Nine of the original twelve principal cast members have returned for this encore season. A set of evenly matched performers who work as a terrifically tight team, highlights are mostly generated by the nature of the script itself. Radiant Zoe Gertz is highly memorable as devoted female pilot Beverley. Sharriese Hamilton breaks hearts as dear Hannah who waits for news of her fire fighter son so patiently. Kolby Kindle brings sly humour to the touching arc of native New Yorker Bob who struggles to comprehend the generosity and kindness being so freely proffered.
Given the complexity of each actor’s track, as they each play at least half a dozen rapid-fire roles, Come From Away requires a particularly gifted set of standby artists. At this performance, Angela Kennedy neatly portrayed the gradually emerging confidence of lone traveller Diane, capturing the precious fragility of her spontaneous romance with fellow traveller Nick. New cast member Phillip Lowe deftly conveys the self-effacing English spirit of Nick, partnering with Kennedy to bring gentle charisma to the mature pair.
Newcomer Joseph Naim is particularly well cast as Kevin J,
sexatary secretary and partner to Kevin T. It remains something of a shock that only twenty years ago, these two men felt the need to consider hiding their relationship for fear of reactions from others. Similarly shocking, with good reason, is the blatant racism encountered by Ali,another of Naim’s characters. Naim brings quiet dignity to these encounters, and the show makes an understated yet potent point against the unbearable ugliness of prejudice.
With a brisk running time of 100 minutes and no interval, Come From Away gives the audience a theatrical experience with the parallel of watching a movie. While lovers of musical theatre will need little encouragement to see the show (or return for a second viewing, or more), Come From Away is the rare musical that is well suited to all theatregoers. Attendance is highly recommended.
Man in Chair reviewed the Australian premiere of Come From Away.
Man in Chair reviewed Come From Away on Broadway.
Come From Away plays at QPAC, Brisbane from 26 March 2021. For tickets, click here.
Come From Away plays at Capitol Theatre, Sydney from 3 June 2021. For tickets, click here.
Photos: Jeff Busby