Friday, June 9, 2023

Come From Away



Come From Away    Book - Music & Lyrics by Irene Sankoff and David Hein.  Produced by Junkyard Dog Productions / Rodney Rigby.  
Canberra Theatre Centre June 8 – July 9, 2023.  

Reviewed by Frank McKone
Thursday June 8


Kyle Brown  - Bob & Others; Zoe Gertz - Beverley & Others
Manon Gunderson-Briggs - Janice & Others; Douglas Hansell - Kevin T & Others
Kat Harrison - Bonnie & Others; Joe Kosky - Oz & Others
Phillip Lowe - Nick & Others; Joseph Naim - Kevin J & Others
Sarah Nairne - Hannah & Others; Natalie O’Donnell - Diane & Others
Emma Powell - Beulah & Others; David Silvestri - Claude & Others

Jeremy Carver-James – Standby; Kaya Byrne - Standby & Dance Captain
Noni McCallum – Standby; Michael Lee Porter - Standby
Angela Scundi – Standby; Jasmine Vaughns - Standby

Australian Cast of Come From Away
Photo: Jeff Busby


Michael Tyack AM - Musical Director, Keyboard, Harmonium & Accordion
Nigel Ubrihien – Associate Musical Director, Keyboard, Harmonium & Accordion
Seb Bartels - Mandolin, Acoustic Guitar & Bouzouki
Bryn Bowen - Drums & Percussion
Jess Ciampa - Bodhrán & Percussion
Tina Harris - Electric & Acoustic Bass
Tim Hartwig - Electric, Acoustic & Nylon Guitars
Matthew Horsley - Whistles, Irish Flute & Uilleann Pipes
Xani Kolac - Fiddle

Photos by Jeff Busby


On Thursday this week I saw the musical Come From Away.  On Sunday next, June 11, I shall see Stories from the Violins of Hope.  Each is a work of theatre art reflecting a dreadful reality.

In response to the awful inhumanity of September 11, 2001, perpetrated by Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda, the Come From Away story, by Irene Sankoff and David Hein, – of how the Newfoundland people offered “a safe harbour in a world thrown into chaos for the 7,000 airline stranded  passengers from around the globe” – shows wonderful humanity.

Stories from the Violins of Hope by Lisa Rosenbaum and Ronda Spinak, in response to the awful inhumanity perpetrated by Adolf Hitler’s National Socialist German Workers' Party, is about how “The Holocaust had silenced them …until an extraordinary violin-maker brought their voices back to life, and to the world” in another show of wonderful humanity.  

What a week of inspiring theatre for me.

What a week of frantic effort for the small community around the airfield at Gander, in their part of Canada’s Operation Yellow Ribbon, as, at 09.26 am Tuesday “The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration made the decision to shut down its airspace forcing over 4,000 planes to land at the nearest airport.  Inbound flights from Europe are diverted to Canada” and by 4.30 pm “A total of 38 planes have landed in Gander carrying 6,579 passengers and crew.”

In bringing Come From Away to Australia, the authors quote Dorothea Mackellar on Australia – “her beauty and her terror” – and Newfoundlander Yva Momiatiuk on her homeland known as The Rock in the Atlantic Ocean – “this marvellous terrible place”.  “Both understand how darkness and light can live side by side.  And these days, when the world often feels so dark, stories of kindness and community are what help us remember the light.”

And this is exactly what the production of Come From Away achieves.

The words spoken and sung in this tightly written libretto are all taken directly from the people at home on The Rock and  from the ‘from aways’ during a month of interviews on the tenth anniversary in 2011.  

The music, in the folk-music style of the island, very much derived from Irish reel and story-telling traditions, is upbeat and strongly rhythmical throughout the show’s 100 minutes.  The changing moods, between individual characters and for the community as a whole, from the fears of the aways, the frustrations of the locals setting up accommodation and food supplies, through the horror of realising what had happened in New York, to the building of new relationships in sympathy – all are built into the rhythm in the music and choreography in such a way that we are swept along for the five days from the first news, the arrivals and until the leaving.

From the first scene of table and chairs in a meeting room (and the issue of who has a seat and a say at the decision-making table), the choreographed movement of the furniture as the characters morphed from homers and awayers in pubs and planes – and even for caring for the cat and  the pregnant bonobo chimpanzee – was done with such precision that it was simply a marvel to watch.

Though we can never forget the terrible sadness for the mother of a New York firefighter, unable to find out what happened to him until finally learning of his death after returning to her home, we are glad to know Newfoundlander Beulah’s continuing friendship was a great comfort.  

The last song in the story makes the point stand out.  Something’s Missing – not just within the events and these particular people’s stories, but in the culture of us human beings that allows some people to do such heinous things as Osama bin Laden and Adolf Hitler did – leaving unforgiveable legacies that we see still today in Afghanistan where the Taliban are back in power, and in the never-ending Israel-Palestine conflict in the Middle East.

But the beautiful thing is that in our art we can create such a tremendous celebration of the best of human culture.  This is how the audience at Canberra Theatre responded in their instant standing ovation for the actors – a great welcome to these Come From Aways to our capital city – and then their enthusiastic cheerful clapping along with the band for many more minutes of Newfoundland sound.

What a night we had!

Come From Away Band
Photo: Jeff Busby

And, thinking now of the Come From Away Jewish-style Prayer

 Make me a channel of your peace.
Where there’s despair in life, let me bring hope
Where there is darkness, only light
And where there’s sadness, ever joy.

I look forward to the Jewish experience in Stories from the Violins of Hope at Bondi Pavilion, Sydney, Sunday June 11 to Sunday June 18.


Irene Sankoff and David Hein - Book, Music & Lyrics
Christopher Ashley – Director; Kelly Devine - Musical Staging
Ian Eisendrath - Musical Supervisor, Musical Arrangements
Beowulf Boritt - Scenic Designer; Toni-Leslie James - Costume Designer
Howell Binkley - Lighting Designer; Gareth Owen - Sound Design
David Brian Brown - Hair Design; August Eriksmoen - Orchestrations
Michael Tyack AM - Musical Director; Lauren Wiley - Casting Director
Telsey & Company: Rachel Hoffman C.S.A - Casting U.S.
Joel Goldes - Dialect Coach; Michael Rubinoff - Creative Consultant
Daniel Goldstein - Associate Director; Richard J. Hinds - Associate Choreographer
Michael Ralph - Resident Director and Choreographer
Warren Letton - Lighting Programmer; Hugh Hamilton - Associate Lighting Designer
Russell Godwin -Associate Sound Designer; David Letch - Associate Sound Designer
Matthew Armentrout - Associate Wig Designer; Brian Downie - Technical Director
David Worthy - Production Manager and Head Mechanist
Alchemy Production Group - General Manager U.S.
Newtheatricals - General Manager Australia
Junkyard Dog Productions – Producer; Rodney Rigby - Producer

 © Frank McKone, Canberra