Review of ‘Come From Away’: “It’s all about the theatre”

In an unknown town somewhere in Canada, the locals face the heroic task of hosting foreign air passengers on the dawn of the day that changed not only America but the entire world’s History. Guillermo Názara reviews below the London production of Come From Away, to share his thoughts and vision about one of the musicals that for years has literally become the talk of the town.

On the North-West side of London’s theatreland, in a venue called The Phoenix, there’s a musical… People say it’s one of the greatest productions in town.. and it goes by the name of Come From Away. Everyone has heard of it and everyone is in some way connected to the events that move its plot along…

Hep!

Welcome to my crit – if these things are your type

Here you will find out if this show is worth the hype

Maybe you’ve heard rumours, but I’m here to clarify

Let me tell you now if you should give this piece a try!

Anyone who’s seen the show (even only once) knows which melody I’m setting lyrics to. It’s been a couple of weeks since I finally went to the musical sooooooo (…to be continued) many friends have recommended to me, and I still can’t get it out of my head – let alone prevent my feet from instinctively stomping to its rythm. Talk about a powerful opening… But that may be the very essence of this work – a reflection of its own storyline. Just as the inhabitants of Newfoundland bring in their foreigners with open arms, the sense of greet and ease irradiates you as a viewer, giving you the strange though comforting sensation that you’ve just arrived to some uncharted site, but you’re encouraged to explore it. Keen to join me?

Flashback to the wake of September 11th, 2001 – and everything that, sadly, we know that’s coming. As the American fly zone locks itself down to prevent any further attacks, 7,000 air passengers are suddenly blocked from their final destination – with no other closer place to land but the Canadian ground. But it would be that unfortunate tragedy that will lead them to most enriching and memorable experience of their lives. It all happened for real (though not with any singing). And once again, reality proves to be one of the best sources for narration – which at the same time, it’s this musical’s strongest trait.

Theatricality. That words summarizes this show almost to perfection. And it may also be the best reason to go see it. Brilliant libretto and brilliant direction, this piece is an extremely enjoyable treat to anyone who’s passionate about this artform. With the use of minimum (albeit aesthetic) sets and just the help of props and blocking for all scene changes – this production is an excellent example of how less can be more, and that to take advantage of what a certain media can only do is probably the right path to follow. With very compelling characters, both loveable and relatable (we all hide an easily turned-on Anette within), and occasionally hilarious dialogues, the pace is admirable and gratefully instense – making a triumph out of this musical when it comes to structure and story development.

Should we say the same about the music? Hmmm. Maybe not so much. And that’s not because the songs are bad, but they’re all way too similar. Apart from the opening number (later reprised in the finale), the rest of the repertoire is very difficult to remember – and it’s highly unlikeable you’ll leave the venue humming any other part than their starting anthem. Some people may say a good score doesn’t need to do that, as long as its effective narrative-wise. They may even add that tunes that are too catchy it’s because they’re just too simple. I happen to disagree. And we have a long, long list of musical theatre evidence to discredit that opinion. But let’s carry on with the review.

What about the locals? What about the foreigners, a.k.a come-from-aways? What about those people we call The Cast? Let’s start by their very construction, because that absolutely deserves a mention. The fact that a same actor plays several roles in the same production is not unheard of, even if the transformation is done in front of the audience. But to make it function and, most importantly, understandable to the viewers, usually takes more than a headache – and I suspect the creatives have been in need of some aspyrins. Quoting another musical (I hope the producers don’t mind me advertising the competition): it works, it works, it works, IT WORKS! And it’s not only how well it does, it also makes this piece stand out and contributes to the upbeat tempo of the whole plot.

But let’s also give some credit to the peasants and travellers, as the London team features some really good choices regarding its casting. West End star Alice Fearn (whose flying skills have already been shown in some other greenifying musical) does a dazzling job in the character of the uncontrolable (trust me, she is) Anette and also as the lady pilot Beverly –

Time is up and I must answer the question (that I myself asked, anyway…): is Come From Away really worth the hype? I think it is. It may not be perfect, but there’s definitely quality and many ingredients that make it unique, and therefore can’t be passed by. The most reliable proof is the audience’s own reaction when I attended – the show completely brings the house down. I’ll just refer to my friend Bryan’s comment when we left the theatre: “I’m surprised of the audience’s excitement for a matinee!”. That says it all.

4/5 stars.

Come From Away is performed at London’s Phoenix Theatre from Monday to Saturdays. Tickets are available on the following link.

By Guillermo Názara

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