When an unprecedented event changed the world forever, the people of Newfoundland extended kindness and understanding to those who found themselves in extraordinary circumstances.
For many, the return of musical theatre to Melbourne is cause for immense celebration, however, taking a seat in any theatre right now brings with it reflection and sadness for the shows and seasons that were never realised.
For those of us who have so desperately missed the theatre, and indeed anyone with a link or regard for the Arts, will know what has and continues to be endured. Theatres across the globe remain closed and the unforeseeable end of West End and Broadway darkness is rapidly decimating the industry and livelihoods of those who work within it.
Despite this devastation – the stories of dressers, actors, singers, ushers, dancers, stage door keepers, ballet companies, orchestras, stage managers, sound engineers, opera companies, dance captains, prop masters, automation staff, wig mistresses, stagehands and maybe the theatre cat have had their plight overlooked by even the dullest of media spotlights.
By contrast, those with any capacity to do something with a ball are, of course, deserving of miraculously porous state and international borders, stadiums brimming with exceptions, and an ever-ready media there to report on the difficulties of maintaining muscle mass and entitlement in lockdown.
While many in sporting circles continue to ostentatiously ignore the privilege of being hosted by cities that enable them to do whatever it is they do with their ‘rackets’, two gracious men stood upon the stage of the Comedy Theatre recently and offered a narrative of difference over indifference.
Right before the curtain rose on the invited dress rehearsal of Melbourne’s second Come from Away season, production associate director Daniel Goldstein and associate choreographer Richard Hinds shared with the audience that it had been over 300 days since a performance of this extraordinary show had taken place anywhere in the world. The pair went on to note that “for 182 of those days, the people of Melbourne had lived through one of the toughest and longest lockdowns in the world’ and that “it’s entirely because of your sacrifices that we are here today. Thank you.”
Within the first few minutes of evening news services, on front pages, middle pages and back pages of newspapers we are disproportionately bombarded and indoctrinated with the thoughts and exploits of those engaged in sport. Before leaving the stage, Daniel Goldstein and Richard Hinds said of the city who had hosted them “Your perseverance through this crisis – your ability, like the Newfoundlandlers to put others’ safety and needs in front of your own – your kindness to your neighbours and fellow Melbournians are an example to the world.” How different might things be if the media were to elevate itself and cover the words of creatives more often over the petulance of ball handlers?
With its rousing and joyfully Celtic score, Come From Away brings to life the astonishing and very true stories of ordinary people thrust together unexpectantly on that day in September 2001.
Before the advent of modern long-range aircraft, Gander International airport in Newfoundland Canada existed principally as a refuelling stop for transatlantic airliners. When United States Airspace was slammed shut due to the tragic events in New York City on September the 11th, any aircraft enroute to the US was unable to continue to its destination. With a population of less than 10,000, Gander suddenly found itself hosting over 6,000 ‘Come from Aways’ as 38 wide bodied aircraft descended from the skies without any clue of when their journeys might continue. In the most ghastly of circumstances, a small community rallied to look after strangers with compassion and kindness, the resonance of which cannot be underestimated in present times.
The absolute epitome of an ensemble piece, this versatile and outrageously talented cast of only 12, seamlessly and subtly populate the stage with dozens of characters to bring forth the people of Gander and the stories of the ‘plane people’ as they traverse together the practical and emotional enormity of their shared predicament.
The shows Canadian writers and creators, Irene Sankoff and David Hein travelled to Newfoundland for the 10th Anniversary commemoration of September 11th and collected hundreds of hours of interviews that have been distilled into this 100-minute musical. While it is noted that some stories are an amalgam of many; if the show has a central character, it’s that of Beverley Bass, the first female American Captain in history who found herself diverted to Gander on that day. Beverly’s journey and soaring anthem, Me and the Sky perfectly captures the sentiments and personal gravity of what it was to be a pilot at that time and is played in this production wonderfully by vocal powerhouse Zoe Gertz.
Despite its seemingly bleak subject matter, Come From Away is joyous, hilarious, hopeful, remarkable and true and as you leave the theatre, you may just feel better about the world you re-join.
As our current unprecedented event continues to change the world forever – this cast and crew of Come from Away, extended humility and gratitude to Melbourne for the things that we went through and for that, you are all so very welcome here in our city.
COME FROM AWAY
Book, Music & Lyrics Irene Sankoff and David Hein
Director Christopher Ashley
Venue: Comedy Theatre, 240 Exhibition Street, Melbourne VIC
Dates: from 19 January 2021
Tickets: from $85