Saturday, August 10, 2019

Review of Come From Away (Broadway in Chicago)

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Come From Away. The book, music, and lyrics were by Irene Sankoff and David Hein and it was directed by Christopher Ashley. Musical staging was by Kelly Devine and music supervision was by Ian Eisendrath. It was about a town called Gander in Newfoundland, who hosted 7,000 people stranded during the air space shutdown after 9/11. It is about their kindness and acceptance of people in need even though they may be different. It shows many different stories of the Newfoundlanders and the passengers and plane crews and how they fit together. I thought this was a very beautiful, moving, and surprisingly funny show. It restored my faith in humanity by showing that, if people try, they can help each other and show that even in dark times our vulnerability can connect us rather than divide us.

I really loved how the movement and music blended so well together. I feel like it heightened the sense of community and cohabitation. They used a lot of body percussion which added to the music. The very last movement in the show was a stomp featuring the whole cast simultaneously, which also emphasized the sense of community. They incorporated the band into the show by having them be the band at the pub and also present on stage throughout the show. The dance is very modern because it showcases real movements that people might do, but making them more fluid and emphasized. Like on the plane and the bus, whenever they were sitting in rows, they would do a lot of ripples of relaxation or stressed movement. It is a lot more effective than having dance numbers because they are talking about real people's experiences and the staging makes the movement seem almost everyday, and in that way it honors the stories of regular people.

Even though this is such a short play, I feel like I knew a lot about all the characters by the end because everything was so beautifully arranged that you got a well-rounded taste of every person's story. Three of my favorite characters were Bob (James Earl Jones II), Beverly (Becky Gulsvig), and Ali (Nick Duckart). They were all characters who had had experiences with discrimination. They were very interesting stories especially because each person was in a different place in their struggles with prejudice. Beverly had overcome prejudice to become the first female pilot for American Airlines. She had a song called "Me and the Sky" that talked about how she got to where she was today and how her world was shattered by the 9/11 tragedy because of something that had made her feel free and alive had killed so many people and had made others afraid of flying, the thing she loved most. I think it is a beautiful song and I love how all the women in the cast joined in the song with her, again emphasizing togetherness. Bob was another character who faced prejudice, but he noticed that the bulk of the discrimination and stereotyping he experienced as a black man in the U.S. was lifted when he got to Newfoundland. There is a moment in the show where the mayor asks him to stay in his house and he is surprised that everyone is so welcoming and inviting to him. The actor keeps those undertones of how he's lived in fear while still letting the audience find the moments of comedy in his shock at how nice these people are. Like when he was shocked when the mayor was asking him to borrow grills for a cookout and he expects people to at least yell at him and tell him to get out of their yards, but instead they invite him in for a cup of tea. It just shows how much of a genius actor he is that he can still be hilarious while maintaining dark and relevant undertones. In contrast to Bob, Ali was feeling more discrimination that ever because of the connection between Muslim extremism and the attacks. Because he was Muslim, many treated him like a threat even though he just wanted to help and get home. Before he can board a plane to get home, he has to go through a full-body search, which is against his religious beliefs, and an interview because they think he might be a terrorist simply because he is Muslim. At first I was worried that Beverly was adding to the discrimination against him, but after the search she apologizes. I don't think that fully makes it better or okay, but it shows that she is trying to make the experience less painful for him.

I also liked how there were two different stages of romantic relationships in this show. Kevin J (Duckart) and Kevin T (Andrew Samonsky) are struggling in an older relationship because they have different attitudes toward the situation they have been put in. Kevin J. feels frustrated and angry, while Kevin T wants to embrace the place they are in. Diane (Christine Toy Johnson) and Nick (Chamblee Ferguson) have just discovered a new relationship and are trying to figure out how to make it work when they live in different countries. I liked how open they were with each other and also how we got to hear their internal monologues about each other. It shows how relationships can come out of difficult situations and how terrible times can cause beautiful moments.

People who would like this show are people who like communities born out of catastrophe, everyday kindness made historical, and unexpected cups of tea. I think that this is an amazing and gorgeous show. I think it is important for people to see this show and consider how we can learn from the Newfoundlanders to become a better, more inclusive, and community-driven country.

Photos: Matthew Murphy

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