Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul

Come From Away
National Tour
Review by Arthur Dorman | Season Schedule

Also see Arty's recent reviews of The Servant of Two Masters and Johnny Skeeky; or, The Remedy for Everything

The Cast
Photo by Matthew Murphy
It took five years after the Broadway debut of Come From Away for its national tour to finally arrive in the Twin Cities, playing at the Orpheum in Minneapolis in January, 2022. Of course, COVID had a hand in a good part of that delay. Thankfully, it is back in half that time, having landed at the Ordway in St. Paul.

Come From Away is a powerful elixir for despair over humanity's capacity to inflict injury on our fellow beings, for this show glories in the capacity of humanity to show its best face to a multitude of strangers with generosity, kindness, flexibility, warmth and empathy. It happened from September 11 through September 16, 2001, in a small town clinging to the Atlantic coast edge of Newfoundland called Gander.

Come From Away is the true story of how the residents of Gander, numbering about 9,600, welcomed and provided hospitality for six days to 6,500 passengers and crew members aboard thirty-eight airplanes grounded there when American airspace was shut down following the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington D.C. It was to be the first day of school in Gander and school bus drivers were ready to go on strike, which seemed like a major upheaval at the start of the day. Soon, though, that issue took a back seat as plane after plane was directed to land at Gander International Airport, their flights originating from a host of nations, their occupants speaking a multitude of languages.

No one knew then how long the planes would be in Gander, but it looked like it could be a long haul. Gander mobilized to provide shelter in public facilities as well as private homes, set up meal lines, find interpreters, address health issues, find changes of clothing for the bedraggled travelers, and deal with the fraught emotions of the "plane people," a phrase that quickly emerged, whose lives had suddenly been upended and who were given to ponder the horrible thought "what if I had been on one of those four planes?"

Irene Sankoff and David Hein created the book, music and lyrics for Come From Away, the title referring to the term Newfoundlanders use for anyone who has made it there from another place, a mark of the isolation which is part of Newfoundlanders' everyday existence. Sankoff and Hein had previously created My Lesbian Mother's Jewish Wiccan Wedding (another unlikely but true story), which has a cult following but hardly established the couple as major musical theatre people. To have turned out as polished and effective a book, compelling a score, and literate, witty lyrics as are found in Come From Away was a huge achievement, as acknowledged by the show's Tony nominations for Best Book, Best Score and as Best Musical (facing stiff competition from Dear Evan Hansen) and two years later, winning the Olivier Award for Best Musical in London.

The Tony Award that Come From Away did win went to Christopher Ashley for Best Direction of a Musical. Ashley's directorial vision transforms Come From Away from Sankoff and Hein's work on paper–pure artistry, from start to finish–to the stage where it pivots between the stories of the plane people and Gander folks, to transform a sleepy cafe into an airplane full of anxious passengers, then pivot again to a gym where care packages are being assembled, continuously shifting back and forth without ever losing a bit of narrative, and with the same twelve actors playing characters in both camps. The simplicity of the staging, relying heavily on chairs that can be swiftly rearranged, and differentiated by Howell Binkley's masterful lighting design, gives the show an uninterrupted emotional thrust that doesn't let up until the final bows. Ashley's original direction has been impeccably recreated by Daniel Goldstein for this non-Equity tour.

The show opens with five successive ensemble numbers that set the stage and present the narrative through to the first contact between the people aboard those thirty-eight planes–who still don't know what happened to bring about their forced landings–and their hosts in Gander. One after another, these songs draw us in to the unimaginable circumstances in which everyone involved finds themselves. As most of this narrative is conveyed in song, it is unfortunate that the Ordway's sound system is not consistently as clear as one would hope, but the urgency of the ensemble's delivery gets the messages across. Interspersed throughout the songs, individual characters representing diverse situations become touchstones through which we experience different facets of the story.

Come From Away requires its cast to function as a seamless ensemble, and the cast in this touring production does that in spades. Their voices meld beautifully in the numerous choral pieces, and the various characters they inhabit relate to one another like life-long friends. Sankoff and Hein's score draws heavily on the folk sound of Newfoundland, and the performers bring a keen sense of that sound to the stage. The music is played with tremendous gusto by an eight-member band, with instruments beyond the expected keyboard, drums, bass and guitar that include Irish flute, whistle, accordion, mandolin, bouzouki, uilleann pipes, bodhran and harmonium.

There is movement throughout Come From Away, but only one full-out dance number, and it is a doozy. Kelly Devine's original musical staging, restaged by Richard J. Hinds, draws on traditional Newfoundlander dance in keeping with the music for "Screech Out," as the locals endow honorary Newfoundlander status on the plane people letting loose at a tavern. You can hear all of the instruments mentioned above creating music that could lift the most weighted down of spirits.

Among performances that stand out are Kathleen Cameron as an SPCA vet tech who won't take no for an answer in making sure the pets on board the planes are cared for; Jason Tyler Smith as a Black New Yorker astonished by the community's unguarded hospitality; Candace Alyssa Rhodes as Hannah, a mother desperate to find out if her firefighter son in New York City was caught in the catastrophe at ground zero, who brings a sense of hopeful longing to the heart rending "I Am Here"; Shawn W. Smith as Kevin T. (his boyfriend is also named Kevin), who finds their stay in Gander to be liberating; and Trey DeLuna as Kevin J., for whom their confinement prompts an icy disdain. DeLuna also portrays Ali, a Moslem traveler subject to the Islamophobia greatly exacerbated by the 9/11 attacks, more so among his fellow travelers than the welcoming Ganderites.

Also noteworthy are Kristin Litzenberg as a Gander elementary school teacher whose classroom organizing skills go into high gear to prepare for the Plane People; Andrew Hendrick as Gander's straight-talking mayor; Molly Samson as Diane, a Texan divorcee; and Stanton Morales as Nick, a jaded British business traveler whose boss had insisted he attend a conference in the States. Those last two form a connection that leads to another of the show's moving songs, "Stop the World," beautifully sung by the pair as a wish that happiness not be a transitory experience. The compelling song "Me and the Sky," sung by the character Beverly Bass, a real person who was the first woman to break the glass ceiling and pilot a plane for American Airlines, expresses a personal loss of confidence in the dream that has been realized, though its delivery by Addison Garner was somewhat muted.

One of the show's most powerful scenes occurs when Kevin T. recognizes the tune that's been ear-worming through his head as an old church hymn, based on the Prayer of St. Francis. As he sings it, an orthodox Rabbi among the travelers joins in with a Hebrew prayer ("Oseh Shalom" by Nurit Hirsh), then Ali adds an Islamic prayer to the moment, the three faiths harmonizing as other cast members join. "Prayer" is a beautifully textured musical piece, but is especially moving–heartbreaking, to be honest–in the simplicity with which it shows how these people from different faiths and perspectives all long for the same thing, which is peace.

You may be wondering how it is that an airport in so small a town as Gander could accommodate thirty-eight jumbo planes. Gander's airport, on the easternmost tip of North America, was the first or last place (depending on which way they were heading) for planes to refuel in the days when they couldn't make a trans-Atlantic flight on one tankful. This was critically important during World War II and continued to be vital as commercial air travel grew after the war. The airport was at one time, by some accounts, the world's largest, though almost all of its traffic stopped just for a fill-up before continuing their journey. By 2001, advances in aviation had made the massive airport obsolete and there was ongoing talk about razing it and building a new, more suitably sized airport.

Come From Away is a beautiful, joyful, tuneful, funny, and heart-breaking show all on its own accord. In these times when the goodness expressed by the people of Gander, and the appreciation for that goodness among those whose lives were thrown asunder by events well beyond their control, seem almost unimaginable, here is proof that we don't have to imagine it, we can call it into being–the potential is there within us. Come From Away could not be more welcome.

Come From Away runs through June 16, 2024, at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, 345 Washington Street, Saint Paul MN. For tickets and information, please call 651-224-4222 or visit For information on the tour, visit

Book, Music and Lyrics: Irene Sankoff and David Hein; Director: Christopher Ashley, restaged by Daniel Goldstein; Musical Staging: Kelly Devine, restaged by Richard J. Hinds; Scenic Design: Beowulf Boritt; Costume Design: Toni-Leslie James; Lighting Design: Howell Binkley; Sound Design: Gareth Owen; Hair Design: David Brian Brown; Associate Lighting Design: Ryan O'Gara; Orchestrations: August Eriksmoen; Musical Supervision and Arrangements: Ian Eisendrath; Associate Music Supervisor: Wendy Bobbitt Cavett; Music Director and Conductor: Sarah Pool Wilhelm; Associate Music Director: Bronwen Chan; Music Coordinator: John Mezzio; Casting: The Telsey Office, Rachel Hoffman, C.S.A.; Production Stage Manager: Abby Bobb; Executive Producer: Mimi Intagliata.

Cast: Kathleen Cameron (Bonnie and others), Trey DeLuna (Kevin J./Ali and others), Addison Garner (Beverley/Annette and others), Andrew Hendrick (Claude and others), Hannah Kato (Janice and others), Kristin Litzenberg (Beulah and others), Stanton Morales (Nick/Doug and others), Candace Alyssa Rhodes (Hannah and others), Molly Samson (Diane and others), Erich Schroeder (Oz and others), Jason Tyler Smith (Bob and others), Shawn W. Smith (Kevin T/Garth and others).

*Alternating performances