A heart-warming journey through the human experience

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American Airlines pilot Beverly Bass (Zoe Gertz).

Musical / “Come From Away”, directed by Christopher Ashley, Capitol Theatre, Sydney, until August 29. Reviewed by HELEN MUSA

THIS movingly-performed musical about a famous episode in September 2001 is evidently a crowd-pleaser as it continues on from a winning season in Melbourne.

With a multi-layered scenic design by Beowulf Boritt and lighting design by Howell Binkley, “Come From Away” looks super-sophisticated, but feels more like a theatre-in-education piece for adults where all the actors play all the parts.

The location of the story is the small town of Gander in Newfoundland, Canada, which nearly doubled its population rapidly when after September 11, 2001, 38 aircraft carrying 6,579 passengers from 92 countries were diverted to the town’s airport.

They’re the “From Away” part of the title and became known as “the plane people”, first obliged to sit on the tarmac but then welcomed by the townspeople in an extraordinary demonstration of sheer humanity.

Kevin T (Douglas Hansell).

Writer/lyricists David Hein and Irene Sankoff have put together an unlikely bunch, based on real-life people, in an episodic journey through the human experience.

There are the two Kevins, a gay couple whose encounters with the town are very different. There’s Diane (Katrina Retallick) who finds love. There’s a chef from a large hotel, evidently Muslim, who is shunned by the other passengers. And there are the warm and eccentric inhabitants of Gander who open up their whiskey cabinets and their wisdom to the temporary newcomers.

Kevin T (Douglas Hansell), discovers to his surprise that half the town has gay connections.

Hannah (the glorious-voiced Sharriese Hamilton), mother of a New York firefighter, finds a new friend in the larger-than-life Gander personality Beulah (Emma Powell) who brings the visitors sandwiches.

The full cast of “Come From Away”.

This local animal lover and SPCA director Bonnie (Kellie Rode), flits across the set while rescuing 19 animals, including two bonobo chimps, from the cargo hold.

At the centre there’s Beverly Bass (Zoe Gertz), the American Airlines pilot, a trailblazer in her own right, who acts as a broker between the audience and the characters.

“Come From Away” is heart-warming entertainment in spades presented in an upmarket performance style that obviously resonated with the audience.

You don’t remember any of the songs or much of the dancing, but you do remember the humour, the quirky style of Newfoundland folk music and most eccentric of all, the “kiss a cod” ritual by which you initiate yourself to become a genuine “Newfie”.

Writer Konrad Marshall, who was there in 2001, wrote “hearing what happened in Gander is like soaking in a bath of kindness”.

If anything, that’s the only problem – the characters are all so damned nice that you know that with people like them, nothing could ever possibly go wrong.

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