Broadway in Cincinnati’s “Come From Away” Lands Close To Home

Review by Nathan Top of “Come From Away”: Broadway in Cincinnati

I am often skeptical of stories told with 9/11 as their backdrop, primarily because I have my own story of where I was when it took place in 2001. I remember where I was, who I was with, and what I felt at that time so naturally I hesitate to relive one of the saddest defining moments of my generation, in any medium. That said, I am incredibly grateful for the experience that was “Come From Away.”

A joyous and moving contemporary musical, “Come From Away” tells the true story of what happened during the week following 9/11 when thirty-eight planes landed in the small town of Gander in Canada, following the airline patrons who found themselves stranded and the townsfolk who welcomed, cared for, and comforted them. As the show begins, the audience immediately swept into the world of Gander and the problem that faces them. How are they going to house, feed, clothe seven thousand people? The rest of the show is basically watching the townsfolk perform a miracle on the scale of loaves and fishes for the stranded passengers.

An intimate cast of twelve invites the audience to sit and listen to a story, several stories actually, of where they were and who they were with on 9/11. Similar to Thorton Wilder’s classic play, ‘Our Town,’ ‘Come From Away’ unveils an entire world of determined, kind, and very real humans, with each actor playing multiple characters, even within the same scene. With only the use of a simple set, twelve chairs, two tables, a backdrop, and a few props, the world that feels as big and colorful as, well, the ‘Rock’ of  Newfoundland. The show breezes by at an hour and forty minutes with no intermission and was captivating throughout. 

The cast is a finely tuned machine with every gear in its rightful and necessary place. Each actor is an athlete, singing, dancing, changing roles, speaking with different accents, changing costumes, connecting, all at a rapid pace and in front of a live audience. Whether or not you are a trained actor, this is hard to do. As an audience member, I was guided by these storytellers through an emotional journey, from laughing to crying, back to laughing with tears still streaming down my face. Exploring themes of feminism, LGBT, religion, and identity, the script never gets preachy or melodramatic. This is a true story about real people who live in the same world that we do. Watching Marika Aubrey and the rest of the female actors tell the story of trailblazing pilot Beverley Bass and the glass ceiling she shattered to become the first female captain of an American Airlines aircraft (“Me and the Sky”) was a highlight of the evening.

The pit is exquisite, capturing the energy and life of the Celtic-influenced score. From start to end, I can count the number of minutes on one hand that the pit was not playing. The show is basically one long, nearly continuous musical piece, requiring the focus and stamina similar to a major symphonic work; not to mention, the show ends with a pit-wide jam, and these musicians killed it.

Almost reluctantly, I found this piece of live theater incredibly moving. Somewhere during the show, I came to the realization: They were telling our story. Actually, they were telling my story. Not necessarily of where I was or what I experienced during 9/11 but what it meant to be human, what it was to connect, to love, to grieve, and to lift each other above one of the saddest moments in history. This musical is a reminder that despite the obstacles and heartbreaks we face, the world is becoming a better place because of the people who choose to make it that way.

“Come From Away” runs now through September 29th at the Aronoff Center.