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REVIEW: Don’t Run Away from Come From Away (Orpheum/Hennepin Theatre Trust)

The touring company of Come From Away. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Last night, Come From Away finally opened at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis. This show, about an ephemeral moment of human generosity in a community two decades ago, opened on Broadway in 2017. The show earned Christopher Ashley a Tony for Best Direction of Musical, as well as a slew of other awards, including the Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Musical for its West End production in London.

That moment of generosity? As the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks unfolded, North American airspace was closed, with planes from around the world grounded at the nearest airport. For 38 planes and nearly 7,000 passengers, this meant landing in the small town of Gander in the Canadian province of Newfoundland. Come From Away tells the true stories of the “plane people” and the Newfoundlanders who aided them in their time of need.

The flights may be grounded, but the band can still take to the sky in Come From Away. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

The show, elegantly co-written by Irene Sankoff and David Hein, is touching and the story is dynamic. It moves at a quick pace, while still allowing for gentle pauses throughout. Come From Away runs roughly 90 min with no intermission, allowing each moment to flow into the next with no interruptions. Despite this, the short musical is packed with deep characters, comedy moments, and lots of heart.

The musical score for this show is spectacular, with tight harmonies and layered melodies sung by a talented touring cast. Inspired by the folk music and soundscapes of Newfoundland, the music does not have that typical Broadway sound, but rather incorporates traditional instruments such as fiddles, pennywhistles, and bodhrans (a type of hand drum commonly found in Celtic music). The band is on stage rather than in the pit, allowing for more interaction with the rest of the action. In one of my favorite moments, a member of the band joins the cast center stage with an “ugly stick”. See if you can spot it!

The North American touring cast of Com From Away. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

The sound of the music is not the only thing that sets this show apart from your typical Broadway musical. While many musicals rely on spectacle with complex sets, huge production numbers, and beautiful costumes, Come From Away keeps things simple. The largely uniform set mostly consists of chairs that the cast shuffles as needed. Similarly, the cast of 12 wears simple clothing with different layers to signify which character the actor is playing at that moment. This lack of spectacle serves this show very well, reminding us that these people and events are real, not the stuff of fantasy.

At its core, Come From Away is about people coming together to get through a tragic and traumatic event. There are so many negative memories and emotions connected with 9/11 still; it is healing to see stories of goodness coming out of this national tragedy, especially while in the midst of an international tragedy in the form of a pandemic. This beautiful musical reminds us once again that we are not an us vs them, but just an us, and that through care and kindness we can support each other through the worst of times.

The immersive atmosphere of Come From Away is facilitated by the on-stage band, which blurs the boundaries between scenes and locations.

Come From Away plays at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis through January 23. Tickets priced $40-$146. Student Rush is also available for all performances. Masks are required; information on the most up-to-date COVID-19 policies can be found on the Hennepin Theatre Trust website. 


Boo Segersin