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LET’S REVIEW: Playhouse’s “Come from Away” is a rare theatrical treat

The cast of ‘Come from Away,’ in this world premiere at La Jolla Playhouse.
The cast of ‘Come from Away,’ in this world premiere at La Jolla Playhouse.
/ Jim Carmody

If Beowulf Boritt’s amazing set for “Come from Away” doesn’t wow playgoers upon entering La Jolla Playhouse’s Potiker Theatre, then the opening musical number surely will. The 12-person cast storms the set singing and stomping in a story that begins to unfold as individual cast members describe their plights.

Directed by Playhouse Artistic Director Christopher Ashley, “Come from Away” is based on a true story that occurred on Sept. 11, 2001 in Gander, Newfoundland. Canadian husband-and-wife writing team Irene Sankoff and David Hein wrote the book, music and lyrics of this exciting musical that enthralls through its history, humanity, and heartfelt experiences.

As airplanes were banned from landing in the United States on 9/11, 38 airplanes were routed to the small town of Gander. The town’s 500 hotel rooms were not equipped to handle the 7,000 passengers arriving. Faced with an unforeseen dilemma, the townspeople jumped into action.

Sankoff and Hein gathered many stories from those on the planes that returned to Gander in 2011 for a 10-year reunion. Cast members portray some of the people who arrived on those planes — many speaking different languages.

The opening song “You Are Here” is a rousing number with stories performed to the toe-tapping rhythms of an eight-piece orchestra, playing an array of instruments central to Newfoundland and Celtic music. When Claude (Joel Hatch) belts outs “Welcome to Newfoundland,” it’s a clear picture of what the arrivals can expect in this small town; to be sure “It’s the farthest place you will get from Disneyland!”

Casting is superb. Geno Carr plays several characters in the story, the town police officer among them, and he has a great voice. Partners Colin 1 (Chad Kimball) and Colin 2 (Caesar Samayoa) make a huge discovery about their lives while in Gander. Lana (Q Smith) is anxious to hear about her firefighter son in New York. Janice (Allison Spratt Pearce) is a novice news reporter caught off-guard in this unexpected situation.

Beverley (Jenn Colella) is a female pilot whom passengers rely on for answers. But who could explain this event or what’s next to come?

Beulah (Astrid Van Wieren) is a local who jumps in to arrange food and logging for the newcomers. Diane (Sharon Wheatley) and Nick (Lee MacDougall) come from two different worlds, but during this uncertain time they find a bond.

Animals are often on planes as well, and Bonnie (Petrina Bromley) discovers a big surprise when she elects to look after them. Bob (Rodney Hicks) must overcome his distrust of the situation.

“Come from Away,” is a fantastic production and reminder that from horrific events may come rescues, compassion, love and heartfelt connections that create lifelong bonds.