‘Come From Away’: The feel-good film we all need right now

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While a musical about 9/11 is the last thing you think you’d hope to watch, Apple TV+ released just that in honor of the 20th anniversary of the devastating attacks. In the same likeness as the filmed stage production of “Hamilton” on Disney+, “Come From Away” is the filmed version of the acclaimed Broadway musical that first opened in New York in 2017. “Come From Away” tells the little-known true story of the small Newfoundland town of Gander that opened its arms to the world on one of history’s darkest days. 

In response to the attacks across the United States, the American airspace was shut down and all incoming flights to any American city were forbidden to land until further notice. Flights were grounded on the Canadian island of Newfoundland at an airport near the sleepy town of Gander. 7,000 airline passengers arrived in town, instantly doubling its population. The people of Gander opened their homes and businesses to the “plane people” without a thought toward their race, religion or background. They provided food, shelter and supplies to perfect strangers when fear and hate seemed to be at an all-time high. 

Many of the original Broadway cast members, including Sharon Wheatley, Caesar Samayoa, Q. Smith and Tony-nominee Jenn Colella, reprised their roles for the filmed production, bringing the immense talent of the Great White Way to the big screen. While the musical tells the story of the thousands who were in Gander during those fateful days after 9/11, there are barely more than a dozen actors on-stage in the entire production. Each actor took over several roles in the film’s brief 90-minute running time, despite the vastly different lives each person actually lived. There were no dramatic costume changes or fancy make-up work; rather the actors simply embodied their current character and transitioned between them effortlessly. 

Similarly, the set could not have been simpler, using only a few tables and some chairs to create a double-decker plane, a small-town elementary school and a major crack in the Earth’s crust. The believability of each scene is once again a testament to the talent of the entire cast. 

As a Broadway fan myself, the musical aspect of the film was a tremendous draw. While I realize this may not be the case for most people, “Come From Away” is far from a traditional musical. Its music, written by Canadian husband-and-wife composing team Irene Sankoff and David Hein, draws from authentic Newfoundland music, or what we in the States think of as Irish music. The toe-tapping pub tunes create a communal spirit like no other musical I’ve seen, inviting all into the world of Gander. 

“Come From Away” is a truly remarkable story, reminding audiences that even in times of devastation, there is always good in the world. The 90-minute emotional roller-coaster will make you laugh and make you cry, or leave you unsure what emotion you should be feeling. Above all, it will give you faith in humanity in a similarly bleak time for the world. Having been fortunate enough to see the stage production both live in New York City and filmed on Apple TV+, I cannot recommend this musical enough. One can only hope that the greater accessibility of streaming services can bring such stories out of the small corners they originated, and into public consciousness. If more people could be like the selfless citizens of Newfoundland, the world would certainly be a better place to live in. 

Rating: 4.8/5.0 stars

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