There will be plenty of time for the eccentric inhabitants of Gander, on Canada’s remote North Atlantic coast, to return to their usual troubles and bickering. But for five days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, these ordinary people hovered above themselves, coming together to offer shelter, food and hospitality to thousands of fearful and confused strangers forced to leave. land in the middle of nowhere.
The extraordinary kindness of the Ganderites, 1,500 miles from Ground Zero in New York, is captured in ‘Come From Away,’ the sweet, big-hearted musical by Irene Sankoff/David Hein whose Broadway tour landed on Tuesday at the Orpheum Theater in Minneapolis.
The title comes from how locals describe foreigners – people who come from far away.
The one-act staged with imaginative efficiency is from Christopher Ashley, who won a Tony for his direction in 2017, and the action moves with the dispatch of a sleek airliner. This Compassionate Valentine mixes bluegrass with Celtic influences, creating a folk feel-good emotion that celebrates community. Nine of the show’s 15 musical numbers are delivered by the company of a dozen members.
Each actor uses gesture, intonation and dress to deftly switch between different roles in a choral story that unfolds against the rustic backdrop of Beowulf Boritt framed by tall trees. Toni-Leslie James’s mishmash pedestrian costumes and the action are expressively lit by Howell Binkley, who uses lots of ocean blues.
The plot of the play is simple. After terrorist attacks shut down American airspace, nearly 7,000 people aboard 38 civilian jumbo jets are forced to land at Gander Newfoundland. The approximately 9,000 residents then spring into action, cooking meals, emptying stores and preparing gymnasiums and schools to welcome their unexpected guests. The townspeople include colorful mayor Claude (Kevin Carolan), caring SPCA worker Bonnie (Sharone Sayegh), police officer Oz (Harter Clingman) and teacher commander Beulah (Julie Johnson).
Beulah befriends New Yorker Hannah (Holly Ann Butler), whose son is a firefighter missing in the collapsed towers. A motley mosaic of humanity from nearly 100 countries with different religious and cultural traditions, the passengers also include a same-sex couple, both named Kevin (Jeremy Woodard and Nick Duckart). There are also a few mature singles – American Diane (Christine Toy Johnson) and Brit Nick (Chamblee Ferguson). And pioneering pilot Beverley Bass (Becky Gulsvig), captain of a Paris-Dallas flight.
While there are some nice elements here and there in the compositions, the show stands out for its folksiness and focus on the characters. It’s as if Sankoff and Hein, a married couple who wrote the book, music, and lyrics, decided to celebrate all the people who would normally be considered the supporting cast.
It’s a welcome change from standard Broadway fare, and it’s one that leaves the viewer with a sense of joy, a surprising thrill given the story it’s all based on.
“Come from afar”
Which: Book, music and lyrics by Irene Sankoff and David Hein. Directed by Christopher Ashley.
Or: Orpheum Theater, 910 Hennepin Av. S., deputies.
WhenTue-Thu: 7:30 p.m. 8 p.m. Fri, 2 p.m. & 8 p.m. Sat., 1 p.m. & 6:30 p.m. Sun. Ends January 23.
Protocol: Proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 test.
Tickets: $40-$146. 1-800-982-2787 or hennepintheatretrust.org.