Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

May 2, 2019

REVIEW: The Bushnell, Come from Away

The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
through May 5, 2019
by Shera Cohen

Canadians are the nicest people in the world. Everyone knows this. The musical “Come from Away” proves it.

Photo by Matthew Murphy
Imagine 7,000 uninvited visitors arriving, all at the same time, in your tiny town whose own population numbers approximately 9,000. The initial response might be, “Get the heck outa’ here.” Yet the folk of Gander, Newfoundland, depicted by an ensemble of 12 amazingly talented actors, not only open their doors wide; set up dormitories; cook up meals (albeit, not the best cuisine); pour on the beer, and install as many phones as Gander can find. What a start for a musical – a little crazy but true, about the day of 9/11/2001 and the few days that follow when 38 planes were diverted to Canada. With much bigger and horrific challenges in the world that week, most didn’t even know about this little episode in history.

“Come from Away” flies by as a non-stop musical (airplane puns intended) presented in one-act. With only one opportunity for audience applause, following the stirring opening number “Welcome to the Rock,” the story, songs, and foot-stompin’ dance seamlessly move from one vignette to another, yet are never rushed. There are no starring roles – this tale of friendship and camaraderie is the lead. While there are no instantly hummable tunes for the drive home, every piece is uniquely atypical from most musicals; country meets ballad meets sea-shanty, making them distinctly memorable.

Every actor takes on at least two roles; each portrays a townie as well as a visitor (from countries around the globe), switching roles in as short a time as one second. It’s almost as if a switch changes a subtle Maine accent to one from Texas, and back again. A hat, a prop, a gesture transforms one unique and distinct personality into another. Never for a moment is the audience confused.

Throughout the performance, many of the musicians are visible onstage, casually dressed and blending in with the action. They are a fun, talented group, playing on an eclectic ensemble of instruments: pipes, mandolins, and bouzouki, and bodhran (a stringed instrument and a drum, by the way)

Bare trees on both sides of the stage keep most of the movement front and center; featuring spirited choreography and a lot of “musical chairs” to illustrate airplane seating for the exhausted, hot, disheveled, and frustrated passengers.

“Come from Away” is a joy. What is especially unique about this show is that, even though it is incredibly inventive in style, music, and staging, it still manages to be a deeply affecting and moving, true account of people simply being nice to each other.