Ask any older person where they were on the morning of September 11, 2001, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a single person who can’t tell you exactly where they were that morning. It is a day that is ingrained in the minds and hearts of millions, and the stories range from heartbreaking to heartwarming. Come From Away, the hit Broadway musical currently at the Lied Center for Performing Arts, is one such story.
Based on real events and people, Come From Away is the story of the people of the town of Gander and the 38 planes full of people who were ordered to land in Gander due to the grounding of all planes in the United States following the attacks in New York. City. The musical takes place over a few days, and during that time the audience is immersed in the experiences of both those who were on the plane and those who did everything to make them feel at home in a new country, when the world was suddenly filled with immense fear and uncertainty. It’s a story of human kindness, understanding, forgiveness, empathy and the power of the human spirit. With book, music and lyrics by Irene Sankoff and David Hein, Come From Away is the must-see show in Lincoln this season.
The cast of this Come From Away tour is simply breathtaking. With each performer playing more than one character without any significant costume changes, attention to detail and strong character choices are more important than ever to successfully telling this story, and the actors did it with ease. Some standout performances come from Julie Johnson and James Earl Jones II, who play Beulah and Bob, respectively. Their comedic timing and delivery had audiences laughing more than once, with Julie belting out an impressive “My Heart Will Go On” and James’ explanation of his experiences of “stealing grills” for the city barbecue.
Speaking of comedy, Harter Clingman is also a strong comedian, and his performance as Oz is one of my favorites. Christine Toy Johnson and Shamble Ferguson are endearing as Diane and Nick, strangers from different countries who meet on the plane and click almost instantly. Sharon Sayegh is wonderful as Bonnie, responsible for ensuring the safety and comfort of all the animals on board the 38 planes that landed in Gander. Danielle K. Thomas breaks hearts with her beautiful performance as Hannah, a mother desperately trying to get in touch with her son, who is a firefighter in New York.
Julie Knitel stands out as Janice, a young reporter who covers events in Gander on her first day on the job. She brings a sweetness and sincerity to the role that is captivating and simply makes you love her. Both Marika Aubrey and Kilty Reidy are wonderful choices for the roles of Beverly and Claude. Aubrey’s voice soars in her song “Me and the Sky”, and Reidy has the audience cheering at the end of her song, “Screech In”. Aaron Michael Ray was a great Kevin J., but his portrayal of Ali will stick in my memory for a long time.
He brings genuine, grounded peace to a character who repeatedly feels like his presence diminishes the peace of others. He is kind and patient in the face of others’ fear to such an extent that the public wants to stand up and defend him and his honor. One of the most beautiful acts is “Prayer”, where townspeople and plane passengers gather to pray in their own languages and religions. Jeremy Woodward, who plays Kevin T., has a beautiful tenor voice that silences the room as he begins to sing, then is soon joined by the others on stage.
The mix of their voices is perfect. The connection between the cast radiates from every interaction and reads all the way to the back of the house, making audiences care about these characters and believe in their relationships. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the musicians in this production, who are simply amazing, weaving in and out of the story and on and off the stage, and bringing the audience to their feet more than once.
If you’re looking for a heartwarming and moving evening that includes a story as relevant today as it was 20 years ago, you won’t want to miss Come From Away. Tickets are still available for most performances and can be purchased online at https://www.liedcenter.org/event/come-away-0. Do yourself a favor and take this trip for the evening.
Photo credit: Matthew Murphy