Thursday, June 18, 2015


One never knows where the next small, exquisite gem of a play or musical will come from. Story ideas are all around us just waiting to be discovered by talented and creative people. Whenever the La Jolla Playhouse Artistic Director Christopher Ashley gets wind of a new and fresh project, it’s a pretty safe bet that Playhouse audiences are going to be in for a special treat.

The musical “Come From Away,” by the Canadian husband-and-wife team of Irene Sankoff and David Hein and directed by Ashley, made its World Premiere debut at the Sheila and Hughes Potiker Theatre last weekend to thunderous applause and standing ovations.

(L-R) Astrid Van Wieren, Caesar Samayoa and Chad Kimball-photos by Kevin Berne
Astrid Van Wieren, Caesar Samayoa and Chad Kimball. Photo by Kevin Berne

Big things often have small beginnings. For America, nothing was bigger and more horrifying than the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. It’s been a defining moment in modern American history. How to expiate the demons of that day, and its immediate aftermath, hasn’t really been addressed by many American writers yet. The scars are too deep. Yet, there are stories to be told and some, no doubt, with an unexpected or particular point of view.
In “Come From Away” the story informs the audience in song, dance, and narrative about the generosity and compassion of our Canadian neighbors north of the 45th parallel. When the first-ever national “ground stop” of all aviation in US airspace took place, 38 jetliners were diverted to Gander, Newfoundland, along with 7,000 passengers from countries all over the world, all left sitting for five days in an airport that most had probably never heard of.
One of the most interesting aspects of this unique production is that the show is chock full of adult singer-actors, many of a certain age. One also gets the feeling of Canadian verisimilitude the minute the curtain goes up. The song "Welcome to Newfoundland" gives one insight into the warm and winning character of our Canadian cousins.

The splendid ensemble cast of twelve performers, who portray multiple characters, immediately lays out the story plot in their musical intros and dialogue exchanges. Toe-tapping, Celtic-infused musical accompaniment from the eight-person onstage orchestra, led by musical director and conductor Ian Eisendrath, is a plus in helping to propel the somber backstory toward an uplifting conclusion employing the healing elements that come at times with humor.

The cast of La Jolla Playhouse’s world-premiere musical COME FROM AWAY all photos by Kevin Berne.
The cast of "Come From Away" - Photo by Kevin Berne

The inspired cast, led by Joel Hatch playing the Mayor, generate enough energy to light the city of La Jolla and surrounding areas. Large casts are not always conducive to naming each performer, but this excellent ensemble cast deserves the honor: The aforementioned Joel Hatch; Jenn Colella; Petrina Bromley; Rodney Hicks; Lee MacDonald; Allison Spratt Pearce; Caesar Samoya; O. Smith; Sharon Wheatley and Astrid Van Wieren, are nothing short of terrific. Such musical numbers as “Stop the World," “Somewhere in the Middle of Nowhere” and the finale by Hatch and the company are proof that our society, despite its uglier sides and moments, just might be worth saving after all.

“Come From Away” performs at the La Jolla Playhouse Potiker Theatre and runs through July 12, 2015.