|The cast of Come From Away (Matt Murphy)|
Come From Away
5th Avenue Theatre
Through November 4, 2018
If you saw the pre-Broadway production of Come From Away at the Seattle Repertory Theatre (co-produced by the 5th Avenue Theatre), you can be assured that the national touring post-Broadway production is still:
*a charm-filled, energetic performance.
*a simply designed, clean, homey set with musicians on stage.
*a stirring story about the immediate effects of the 9/11 bombings on airplanes currently in the air to arrive in the United States, air space declared “closed” and all flights being diverted to any close airport. 38 of them got diverted to a tiny town in Newfoundland called Gander.
*an uplifting account of how a tiny town of 9000 people and surroundings came together to provide for more than 7000 frightened passengers, plus exotic animals!
12 energetic actors change into multiple roles, both Canadian and other, to illustrate all the people involved in this massive tale. Since planes were grounded for five days, suddenly Gander and nearby towns had to feed, clothe, administer medically, house, and equip thousands of strangers with all kinds of material. People were desperate for cell phones and news sources and access to their families all over the world.
Different diets had to be accommodated. Pharmacies had to provide emergency amounts of prescriptions. There were babies and seniors and everyone inbetween. But the towns rallied and provided, and as we learn from the musical, some stayed up round the clock to make it all happen.
There is a whole ton of “exposition” (via narration) in this show. The actors have to tell the audience a lot about who they all are to set the stage for how they interact. Some people may not like the device and feel it’s a bit clunky, but it’s hard to see another way to tell this story.
This show has little in the way of Broadway “flash.” The costumes are street clothes and minimal changes, like pulling out a crushable hat from a pocket, or a scarf, or throwing on a new jacket. The changes are more accomplished by vocal shifts in accents.
The guts of the script are really about the “small” interactions between real people. A moment of realization was when a man who spoke only English tried to speak to some Africans who did not speak English. He sees a Bible and is able to remember a specific verse by number that was about not feeling afraid, that strangers will help. Though the Bible the Africans carried was not in English, the numbers of verses were all the same.
Tiny moments of connection and friendship in adversity lift the script into a heavenly mix of support and warmth. It is absolutely a “feel good” show.
All of that is present in the touring show, along with a talented cast of tour talent. There are some issues, though, with seeing this iteration. Having seen this at the Seattle Repertory Theatre, some significant differences dilute the heady feeling of that first experience. Part of it is that the 5th Avenue is quite a lot bigger than the Rep. Most of the audience is much farther away from the stage.
Those who see the show on Broadway are seeing it in the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre which has a capacity of 1084 seats. Touring companies get what they get on the road, and the 5th Avenue has a seating capacity of 2100. That 2x’s capacity makes a big difference to audience experience.
The sound system on “opening night” at the 5th Avenue might have been malfunctioning. They’d publicized recently that they had upgraded their sound system, but the mushiness of the sound mix made it almost impossible to determine what the lyrics were in the big group numbers. Even some of the normal dialogue was hard to distinguish.
The lyrics in this show are very important. They help tell the story and cut down on the spoken narration. They’re fun. We should hear them.
So, it’s harder to have the same connection with those “small” moments of interaction that this libretto lauds and highlights. After all, it’s not the grand gestures that provide meaning to every day life, it’s the little stuff that surprises and delights in its unexpectedness.
If you have never seen the show, it’s likely to be a rollicking good time, but bring anything you can to help you hear if you have any difficulties in that arena.