By Oline H. Cogdill
It seems fitting that Broadway Across America marks its return to the Broward Center—and kicks off its 2021-2022 season—with the Tony and Olivier Award winning musical Come From Away that honors themes of community, perseverance, isolation and fear of the unknown, now running in Broward through Nov. 14 — also Nov. 16-21 at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach.
It seems that during last 18 months we’ve all come from away.
And now we are back, a bit changed like the myriad characters in Come From Away, but happy to be back.
That feeling of relief, of being back to a semblance of the normal, of rejoining, well, everything, was felt on opening night of Come From Away. Sure, we all had to keep our masks on, but, from the moment that the welcome-back announcement from Kelley Shanley, president and CEO at Broward Center for the Performing Arts, was greeted with applause, it was obvious the audience was charged up and ready to go back to The Rock, the affectionate nickname for the tiny town of Gander in Newfoundland.
And this production maintained the high standards the audience was expecting—and needed.
Come From Away recounts what happened on 9/11 when 38 international flights were diverted to Gander, doubling the town’s population from 7,000 to 14,000. Gander had once been a major refueling destination decades earlier when fuel tanks were smaller. The residents of several adjacent towns unselfishly and unreservedly mounted a Herculean effort to embrace the 7,000 displaced passengers from a hundred different backgrounds for almost a week during those dark uncertain days.
The actors do double and sometimes triple duty playing the residents, passengers and crew members who tell their stories directly to us, making the audience as much a part of the events as the cast.
Hope and humanity in the face of adversity is a cliché but Come From Away shows just how true that is. The Gander residents are good people, putting aside their own differences such as a bus drivers’ strike to spring into action for the greater good. And the passengers also are good people—and very afraid because when the planes first landed they had no idea of the tragedy that had unspooled on American soil. The passengers also are angry and frustrated because they are forced to stay on the planes for a couple of days.
While the passengers and residents bond, these characters also show that racism and xenophobia are always with us, and can be acerbated by fear and tragedy.
Large swaths of humor flow through the story—built from the sometimes absurdity of situations such as trying to round up enough toilet paper and baby formula. But the enormity of the tragedy of 9/11 is never forgotten. We all remember those post 9/11 days when we couldn’t stop watching the news, often weeping. Come From Away reflects this.
There also are these wonderful little scenes that illustrate change and connecting with another. A local man who was born in Poland and sent to Canada before WWII was told by his parents never to admit he is Jewish, a secret he has kept for decades, even from his wife. He reconnects with his religion and himself with one of the passengers, an Orthodox rabbi. A frightened African couple who speaks no English find solace when a Gander driver points to a passage in the woman’s Bible. A Muslim is offered a quiet place to pray.
The 12 actors are uniformly individually outstanding, turning into another character complete with a different accent in seconds, and as an ensemble tight and smooth. The voices are strong as is the choreography.
First, props must be paid to Hialeah native Nick Duckart, who has been a part of the piece since the tour’s first rehearsals in New York City in August 2018 and spent 19 months on the road tour before the 2020 shut down. Duckart smoothly plays Kevin, half of a gay couple on board, and Ali, a Muslim master chef whom others avoid, and assorted Gander residents. Duckart is well known in South Florida for the variety of roles he played at nearly every major company in the region, including his Carbonell Award winning role as Usnavi in Actors’ Playhouse’s In The Heights. Despite his long-running time in the production, Duckart makes his roles seem fresh and new. It’s good to have you back, Nick.
Marika Aubrey’s lovely voice and arresting presence as she portrays the real-life Beverley Bass, who was American Airline’s first female captain and showed her leadership on 9/11. Aubrey has one of the few solos, “Me and the Sky,” tracing her life from dreaming of being a pilot, prevailing over sexism and stereotypes to become a barrier-breaking heroine, and how 9/11 changed her. Aubrey takes center as she starts “Somewhere in the Middle of Nowhere”—a song that always brings a tear to this reviewer—then joined by the ensemble as they chart leaving Canada for the U.S.
Sharriese Hamilton as Hannah, a mother worried that she cannot reach her son, a New York City firefighter, pulls all the emotional stops with “I Am Here.”
The rest of the cast is equally on point, some of whom were part of Come From Away’s previous South Florida tour.
Returning are Kevin Carolan as the mayor who jumpstarts the production with the rousing opening “Welcome to the Rock.” Also enjoyable are Harter Clingman as the constable; Julie Johnson as Beulah the local teacher who strikes up a friendship that offers comfort to Hannah; James Earl Jones II as the African-American New Yorker and a fearful African passenger; Chamblee Ferguson as the British businessman Nick and Christine Toy Johnson as Texas divorcee Diane have a chemistry that makes their growing relationship believable.
Those who have been touring with this restart production—but are new to South Florida—include Julia Knitel as Janice on her first day as a broadcast reporter; Sharone Sayegh as Bonnie who’s focused on rescuing the animals onboard the planes; Jeremy Woodard as the other Kevin and Duckart’s partner.
The band, under the guidance of music director and conductor Cameron Moncur, is just flat-out terrific in a score that uses an accordion, keyboards, mandolin, electric bass, acoustic guitar, drums, Irish flute, Uileann pipes and a bodhran. Don’t be like those people rushing out to get to their cars–stay after the curtain call for a brief rousing mini-concert. So much applause to Moncur, Isaac Alderson, Kiana June Weber, Billy Bivona, Martin Howley, Sean Rubin, Steve Holloway and Ben Morrow.
Come From Away’s book, music and lyrics were fused together seamlessly by Irene Sankoff and David Hein with the leadership of several people including director/choreographer Christopher Ashley. Christopher Ashley’s steadily urgent pacing, the musical staging by Kelly Devine and music supervision by Ian Eisendrath remain fresh and energetic.
The beautiful production of Come From Away has come at just the right time.
Come From Away runs through Nov. 14 at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale, as part of the Broadway Across America-Fort Lauderdale. Visit BrowardCenter.org or call (954) 462-0222; orders for groups of 10 or more call (954)660-6307. Running time approximately 100 minutes without intermission. Prices start at $30.50.
Come From Away plays Nov. 16 through 21 at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, 701 Okeechobee Boulevard, West Palm Beach, as part of the Kravis on Broadway series. Visit www.kravis.org or call (561) 832-7469. Tickets begin at $33.
COVID Protocal at Broward Center and Kravis: All guests age 2 and over are required to wear a suitable face covering while inside the theater. All guests age 12 and over are asked to provide documentation of a recent negative COVID-19 test OR, fully vaccinated guests provided the option of providing documentation of full vaccination status; matching photo ID will be required for adults 18 and over.
For the Broward Center: Visit the Guest Policy at https://www.browardcenter.org/visit/guest-entry-policy for full details.
For the Kravis: Review the full policy details and requirements at kravis.org/healthsafety
To read interviews with Duckart pre-pandemic about the show, click here http://www.floridatheateronstage.com/general/nick-duckart-life-on-the-road-with-come-from-away-tour/ and http://www.floridatheateronstage.com/features/nick-duckart-is-coming-home-with-come-from-away/