A Musical with a First Woman

Screen Shot 2015-12-20 at 12.33.01 PMLast night I saw the musical “Come from Away” about the people of Gander and the passengers (7,000 people in all) whose 38 planes were grounded in Newfoundland on 9/11. The musical, written by husband and wife team Irene Sankoff and David Hein, was a joint production of the La Jolla Playhouse and the Seattle Repertory Theatre. It had extended full-house runs in both La Jolla and Seattle.

With a dozen actors playing multiple roles, on a single-set stage with a wonderful band of Newfoundlander musicians, the story is fast-paced. Because we all know what is happening from the beginning of the play, although the citizens of Gander, Newfoundland, and the passengers, do not, I found myself crying from beginning to end. Hearing people’s personal stories (and the play is based on interviews with the citizens of Gander and the passengers) makes the tragedy feel immediate and poignant. The play and music are packed with powerful images from when the passengers don borrowed clothes, and wonder who they are or have become, to when they return to “normal” but find everything different.

A central figure in the story is the airline pilot Beverly Bass. Her solo, “Me and the Sky” is a recitation of what it takes to become a First Woman. She begins with her childhood dream to be a pilot, her persistence in following her path, and her final achievement in becoming the First Woman to become a captain of an airline crew at American Airlines.

For me, the most heart-stretching part of the play was the section simply titled, “Prayer.” One young man has been dreaming of a song and begins to sing it. It is the Christian stalwart, “Make me a channel of your peace.” The song is performed in harmony, as a round, a wonderful reimagining of the original melody but it becomes even more powerful when a Jewish rabbi begins to sing in his own tradition, while Muslim passengers kneel to bow and pray.

The play is filled with moments of hope. If you find yourself in need of inspiration and this musical comes to a city near you, hasten to obtain tickets. It will make you laugh, cry, applaud. You won’t “come away” humming the tunes but you might want to dance a jig in celebration of the possibilities for humankind.

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