June 18, 2022

Come from Away (2021)
Grade: 75/100

Director: Christopher Ashley
Stars: Petrina Bromley, Jenn Colella, De'Lon Grant

What it's about. The successful musical "Come from Away" was slated to be adapted as a motion picture, but the coronavirus pandemic made production impossible on location in Canada. So, the Broadway musical was filmed instead.

The story takes place on 9-11 and the next few days. We all know that on September 11, 2001, terrorists hijacked four commercial airliners. Two went into the Twin Towers in New York City, a third rammed into a wing of the Pentagon, and the fourth plane crashed as the passengers were about to storm the cockpit. There were no survivors from any of the four planes.

Once the FAA realized what was happening, no more planes took off, and those planes in the air were ordered to land at the airports of less populated cities. This is the reason why 38 planes, with a total of approximately 7K passengers, were obligated to land in the obscure airport of Gander, Newfoundland.

Gander was and is a small town, with a population of about 10K. It was a major strain on local resources to host the grounded 7K passengers. They needed food, shelter, showers, bathrooms, and clothes. But the locals were sympathetic, and their heroic caregiving provided a rare feel-good story from the horrors of 9-11.

There are 12 cast members, a diverse group of thirty to sixty somethings. They look and dress like ordinary people, and several are overweight and/or balding. All play multiple roles, locals and passengers. The subplots include an animal lover who takes on the burden of feeding the dogs, cats, and chimpanzees on the planes; a woman from Texas and a man from England who are strangers but become a couple, a gay couple afraid of small town intolerance; an Egyptian who must convince everyone he is not a terrorist, the first female pilot for American, a television news reporter on her first assignment, etc.

The book is by David Hein and Irene Sankoff. Although ostensibly a simple filming of a Broadway performance, they are myriad camera angles.

How others will see it. How I felt about it. I don't know how they do it. It can't be easy to memorize a couple hundred lines, and deliver them without a hitch, even if it is something you have done dozens of times before. You also have to know where to stand or sit in the constantly changing scenes.

Besides my respect for the actors, which could be said about most any Broadway show, there are positive things to say about this show in particular. I like the casting. I like their voices. I like the songs. I like the dialogue. I even like the intensity. It is all obviously staged, and yet the emotions of 9-11 week come through.

It is nice that the writers have sympathy for the innocent Egyptian, or for the gay couple afraid to be themselves in public, or for the animal shelter employee who undertakes the thankless task of helping the animals in need. Some of the stories seem contrived. Of course the Texan woman and Englishman become partners. We wonder whether all the good folks of Gander are as kind and compassionate as depicted here. Or whether any of the sound was added during post production.

But unquestionably it is an achievement. The glory is shared among the musical director, the film director, the cameramen and editors, the choreographers and composers, and the hard-working cast who never deliver a line with disinterest or out of character..

Filmed plays are nothing new. There's Hamilton from just last year. One man (or woman) plays are especially filmable, thus we have Secret Honor with the late Philip Baker Hall, Monster in a Box with the late Spalding Gray, and Julia Sweeney in God Said Ha!. Film can go places where plays cannot, since plays are limited to one room with one back wall. But we can be impressed by the efforts to make the most within those limitations, epitomized by Etch-a-Sketch art and Shakespearean sonnets.