The wellspring of theatrical joy bubbles over once more as international hit musical Come From Away lands in Melbourne for its warmly welcome third season.
Snippily dubbed the “9-11 musical,” Come From Away breathlessly chronicles five incredible days when 7000 world travellers were diverted to Gander, Newfoundland on September 11, 2001.
The central theme of survival through kindness gains added resonance as Melbourne continues to step blinking into the light following necessary but distressful extended lockdowns. Just as the residents of Gander merrily state, “You’d have done the same thing,” so too have local community members dropped off food, provided lifts, or run online activities for those in isolation or working on the front line.
The warm glow of thoughtfulness shines all the more brightly given that the characters in Come From Away endure moments of xenophobia, islamophobia, homophobia and sexism in addition to the fear and weariness of being stranded so far from home. The authentic reality of the characters makes these moments of cruelty all the more shocking, deftly driving home a powerful message of shared humanity.
None other than veteran maestro Michael Tyack now serves as musical director, capably leading the on-stage band of musicians playing all manner of eclectic instruments to terrific effect. On the fringes of the stage all night, when the musicians join the cast centre stage for the kiss-the-cod “Screech In” ceremony, the combined energy practically lifts the roof off the Comedy Theatre.
Over and above the infectious music of Irene Sankoff and David Hein and dazzling direction of Christopher Ashley, it is the wondrously selfless Newfoundland generosity that is the chief attraction of Come From Away. With Sankoff and Hein’s book based on hours upon hours of interviews, each performer is charged with bringing a varied set of living, breathing humans to light. Given the electric cohesion of the current tight and evenly matched ensemble cast, it is extraordinary to note that seven of the twelve are new to the production.
From the original Australian cast, Zoe Gertz continues to shine as pioneering pilot Beverley Bass. Emma Powell exudes genuine warmth as primary teacher Beulah, still scoring laughs as drunken Delores belts “My Heart Will Go On.”
Douglas Hansell and Joseph Naim share ready chemistry as the two Kevins, each disappearing into other roles. Hansell conveys a joyful unwinding as Kevin T makes the best of the situation, and Naim is moving as the unfairly vilified Muslim Ali.
Phillip Lowe’s adorably sheltered Englishman Nick is now perfectly matched by Natalie O’Donnell as tentative Texan Diane, with the mature age romantic arc of the endearing pair being a lovely highlight of the show.
Joe Kosky is a terrific addition as police chief Oz, displaying sharp comic timing as Oz and in featured roles such as perky Aussie passenger Joey and sexy Spanish-speaking PE teacher Mr Michaels, sharply contrasting these roles with a compassionate portrayal of the lone Rabbi. Kyle Brown expertly captures the cynical credulity of hardened New Yorker Bob, making the character’s gradual relaxation a pleasure to watch.
Manon Gunderson-Briggs brings a plucky energy to new reporter Janice, neatly showing the character’s growth across her baptism-by-fire first week on the job. Sarah Nairne brings tender warmth to fearful mother Hannah. Kat Harrison fills SPCA volunteer Bonnie with plucky nerve. David Silvestri is suitably grounded and focused as capable mayor Claude.
The unique energy and passion of Come From Away are destined to be remembered for years; at this point it feels hard to believe that another show will usurp its special place any time soon. Lovers of musical theatre who are yet to experience Come From Away are strongly encouraged to take this final chance to see the show, and those who have already been will need little encouragement to return.
Footnote: Opening night of this third Melbourne season was blessed with the company of Janice Goudie (inspiration for Janice) and the real Bonnie Harris. Goudie and Harris joined the cast on stage for the curtain calls.
Come From Away plays at Theatre Royal, Sydney from 5 November 2022. For tickets, click here.
Come From Away plays at Canberra Theatre from 8 June 2023. For tickets, click here.
Come From Away plays in Auckland and Wellington, New Zealand from August 2023. For tickets, click here.
Man in Chair reviewed the Broadway production of Come from Away.
Man in Chair reviewed the original Melbourne season of Come from Away.
Man in Chair reviewed the second Melbourne season of Come from Away.
Photos: Jeff Busby