Enough grim commentary. Enough bitter irony. Please. Enough. If you’re exhausted by the news and by the theater interpreting that news, Come From Away is a massive relief, reassuring us, with song and dance, that humanity is not a lost cause, that generosity and trust still exist. This joyous and wonderfully original show, by Irene Sankoff and David Hein, directed by Christopher Ashley, is based on true events: Thirty-eight planes due to land in New York on 9/11 were diverted to Newfoundland. The 9,000 citizens of the town of Gander opened their homes and kitchens and hearts to 7,000 strangers from all over the world for the five days American air space was closed.
There’s a huge lot of talent on stage, as the 12 cast members become the people in the town, the people on the plane who have “come from away,” the air traffic controllers, and the news reporters, each invested with personality and back story. The company is, tellingly, of every shape and size and age and shade. Even more telling is that almost all the songs are sung by the entire cast: This is a show about community and solidarity. The thumping, stomping, rhythmic, Celtic music is played by a terrific onstage band.
A standout among this impressive group is Jenn Colella, who plays, among others, the pilot; she conveys all the authority of the role and the intensity of the situation, with a knockout voice and a stalking grace.
We get to know a gay couple, both named Kevin (Chad Kimball and Caesar Samoyoa), who discover tolerance where they didn’t expect to; the Mayor (Joel Hatch), who transforms the hockey rink into a gigantic refrigerator; a worried Hannah (Q. Smith), whose son is a New York firefighter; an awkward Brit (Lee MacDougall), who falls for a Texas divorcée (Sharon Wheatley), and Bob (De’Lon Grant), who makes the lovely discovery that his suspicions (“Where’s my wallet?") are unfounded. The head of the SPCA (Petrina Bromley) gets the forgotten animals off the planes, while Janice (Kendra Kassebaum), the rookie journalist, copes with the story of a lifetime. One of the town’s two policemen (Geno Carr) makes endless runs to the supermarket for, among other stuff, baby formula and tampons.
The show doesn’t ignore the inevitable issues. A Muslim man is treated with undeserved mistrust; nobody speaks the Africans’ language; people get angry and frightened and desperate, stuck as they are on the “edge of the world” without sleep and without information. But somehow the show is uplifting without being corny, and it manages to do the unlikely: redeem the basic terrible fact of 9/11 with rollicking kindheartedness.
Newfoundland joke told at the 10-year anniversary reunion:
“Come on in — the door’s open.”
At the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater , 236 W. 45th St., New York.