Friday, June 9, 2023



Come From Away. Book, music and lyrics by Irene Sankoff and David Hein.

Directed by Christopher Ashley. Musical Direction by Michael Tyack AM. Musical staging by Klly Devine. Musical supervision by Ian Eisendrath Costume design. Toni Leslie-James. Sound design Gareth Owen. Scenic design Beowulf Boritt. Lighting design Howell Binkley.Hair design David Brian Brown. Associate director Daniel Goldstein. Resident director and choreographer Michael Ralph.. Associate choreographer Richard J Hinds. Junkyard Dog Productions. Canberra Theatre. Canberra Theatre Centre. June 8 – July 16 2023. Bookings: 62752700 or

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

 Come From Away begins with goosebumps as the company launches with gusto into the opening number of Welcome to the Rock. It closes with tears of adulation as the reprise rings through the Canberra Theatre after a night of theatrical magic. Come From Away is a rollercoaster ride of tears and laughter of kindness at a time of adversity, of humanity under stress and of the generosity of the people of Gander on the northern most tip of Canada in the state of Newfoundland.  On September 11th 2001 in an act of unspeakable terror two planes were flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in the heart of New York’s financial district. Come From Away tells the story of what happened when planes headed for New York were diverted to avoid further disaster. Among the hundreds of planes diverted across the United States, 38 aircraft carrying passengers from different countries and different cultures landed at Gander airport where the 7000 inhabitants of the  small town of Gander found themselves host to almost seven thousand passengers in need of refuge during five anxious days that they were grounded.

Irene Sankoff and David Hein have written a musical account of the events of those five days which is an unlikely masterpiece and nothing short of astounding. A superb ensemble of performers double as inhabitants of Gander as well as passengers of the aircrafts. For almost two uninterrupted hours audiences are transfixed by the sheer  vitality of a show that carries us along on the crest of emotion, amazed at the instantaneous organizing skills of Beulah (Emma Powell), moved by the plight of passenger  Hannah (Sarah Nairne) as she desperately seeks news of her fireman son amused at the comical antics of Bob (Kyle Brown) as he makes advances on Janice (Manon  Gunderson Briggs) , enchanted by the burgeoning love between Englishman Nick (Phillip Lowe) and Texan Diane (Natalie O’Donnell) . All the world’s a stage and the stage is Gander where different cultures commune between a Muslim (Joseph Naim) and a Jew (Joe Kosky). It is where two gay men, both called Kevin and played by Douglas Hansell and Joseph Naim confront their relationship. No greater love hath Bonnie (Kat Harrison) than that for the animals caught in this fearful predicament .

The musical numbers , played by a folk band  under the musical direction of Michael Tyack AM  also capture the amazing diversity of the musical numbers. There is the triumphant jubilation of Welcome to the Rock, the haunting strain of Hannah’s I am Here, the reverent tone of Prayer as a solemn salute to all faiths, the affirmation of feminist solidarity in Beverly’s Me and the Sky. Here at the edge of the world everyone is equal, brought together by unprecedented circumstance. In this crucible of humanity, humanity’s virtue shines through humanity’s horror and as the band takes to the stage after the cast have taken their bow the theatre erupts in the euphoria of hope and in spontaneous unison the audience leaps to their feet in grateful ovation.

Come From Away is an exceptional work.  The staging is continuous, the choreography of Kelly Devine’s musical staging intricate and timed to perfection as the cast change roles, change positions, change costumes and fill the stage with pathos, humour, love and joy. Christopher Ashley’s direction is inventive and precise, purposeful in its assurance sweeping us along on that rollercoaster of emotion at times feeling the spine tingle, the tapping of the foot, the laughter and the tear, the embrace of the worst of humanity and the strength of its goodness.

It is even more remarkable on the opening night of a final Australian season that the production should be so alive, so vibrant, so moving and so uplifting. It is not only a magnificent salute to the people of Gander but to the endurance and the gratitude of the passengers of those 38 planes that landed in Gander on September 11th. For all those who have come from away to witness this superb musical at the Canberr Theatre, it will be an experience that you will never forget. Do not let it slip aw3ay..