It’s been 3 years since Come From Away first came to Melbourne with its incredible true story of the small Canadian town of Gander that took on over 7000 stranded passengers after the September 11 attacks. 2019 feels like a lifetime ago. Pre-pandemic, before the January 6 attacks on the US capitol, before the Black Lives Matter movement, and prior to the turmoil that came with a global emergency that killed millions and changed how we live our lives permanently.
What’s more, September 11, 2001, while further away in history seems more relevant and familiar. Perhaps it was the collective global trauma of the moment, or the fact that in that moment the world as we knew it changed forever. Perhaps it’s because living in these “unprecedented times”, the chaotic, shocking, and history-altering events are somewhat normalised, comfortable, and typical.
The 2022 return season of Come From Away opened in Melbourne last night and it was as wonderful, heartbreaking, hilarious and touching as in 2019. Zoe Gertz reprised her award-winning role of Beverly (and others) and brought chills with her performance of “Me and the Sky”, ironically, her performance is incredibly grounded (pardon the pun). Gertz brings such strength and calm to the role of the American Airlines captain she is impossible not to like and more importantly, respect.
Sarah Nairne is Hannah (and others), a new addition to the Australian cast and has some of the clearest, strongest vocals that positively soar through the Comedy Theatre. Other new cast members include Manon Gunderson-Briggs as Janice, the green news reporter on her first day at work and Kat Harrison as Bonnie, the veterinarian who comes to the aid of the pets and rare animals aboard the grounded flights. Joe Kosky continues his musical theatre career with another star-turning role as Oz (and others), he has several scene-stealing moments as the Spanish-speaking gym teacher and one of the top cardiologists, while Phillip Lowe flips between accents and characters like a Gemini such is his ability to differentiate with credibility. Joseph Naim joins the cast as one of the “Kevin’s” (among other characters). I particularly liked his take as one half of the Brooklyn gay couple.
All cast members play multiple roles, with various accents, ethnicities, and beliefs with such precision and dedication, that each character is clearly defined. Simple costume changes (a hat, jacket, glasses) and the skill of the cast allow for seamless transitions between characters which is all achieved while on a rotating stage!
There are tears, of course, it’s a heavy topic, one still difficult to approach for many people, but the majority of tears that fell were happy ones. Come From Away tugs at the heartstrings unlike any other musical. Its sensitive subject matter sets you up for an emotional rollercoaster, but what is unexpected is the kindness, humour, and joy that it brings to the surface during a terrible moment in history.
The exceptional cast is joined on stage by the live band who play the folk-style tunes with gusto and skill. Directed by Christopher Ashley and with the book, music, and lyrics by Irene Sankoff and David Hein, Come From Away strikes the very delicate balance between pathos and exuberance, empathy, and laughter. It’s a testament to humanity, and a wonderfully uplifting production full of sadness, joy, and humour. Come From Away reminds us of when in the worst moments we can come together, grieve, smile, and ultimately find peace. What an incredible production to have the capacity to achieve this in under two hours and one act. Come From Away is a triumph both in 2019 and now, if you missed it the first time, it’s a must-see, and if you saw it in 2019, go again, it’s as joyful and heartbreaking as ever.
Rodney Rigby and Junkyard Dog Productions
Come From Away
book, music, and lyrics Irene Sankoff and David Hein
Director Christopher Ashley
Venue: Comedy Theatre | Exhibition Street Melbourne VIC
Dates: Until 16 October 2022