Theater review: Ordway’s ‘Come From Away’ an uplifting elixir rooted in a tragic time

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Who would think that the most uplifting, life-affirming piece of musical theater to have emerged from Broadway in the last decade would be about Sept. 11, 2001? But bless the Canadian theater-creating couple of Irene Sankoff and David Hein for finding a silver lining in this very dark cloud.

The U.S. government responded to the events of Sept. 11 by immediately closing American air space. This meant that 38 inbound international flights that were already in the air were diverted to Gander, Newfoundland, near the easternmost point of North America. Overnight, a town of 9,000 almost doubled in population, hosting passengers from around the world for five days.

How they did it is the basis of “Come From Away,” the musical that Sankoff and Hein created from research that not only included interviews with locals and travelers involved, but also an education in the Celtic-flavored folk styles of the Canadian Maritime Provinces. Yes, they found that shock, anger, fear, sadness and bewilderment were present in these passengers, but they also pieced together a story of kindness, generosity and an emerging sense of faith in humanity when it was most desperately needed.

A North American touring production of “Come From Away” has landed at St. Paul’s Ordway Music Theater for 10 days, and it might be the ideal elixir for any hearts battered by a world full of suffering and cynicism. With an extraordinarily versatile high-energy cast of 12 rapidly transforming into multiple characters, it’s a fascinating story firmly rooted in very relatable realism.

And, despite tragedy being its catalyst, “Come From Away” is actually a musical comedy about culture clash, unlikely friendships and making the best of a bad situation.

Each actor fully inhabits whomever they happen to be at that moment, be they the locals turning everything into lodging, an animal rescuer, a reporter on her first week on the job, or such travelers as a gay couple and an African American man uncertain how they’ll be received.

Director Christopher Ashley earned a Tony nomination and an Olivier Award (the London equivalent) for this production, and it’s easy to see why, for “Come From Away” requires a rare combination of tightly choreographed teamwork and distinctly individual characters.

While each performer makes a strong impression, the performance I attended featured a memorable turn by an understudy, Dekontee Tucrkile, as a woman awaiting news of her New York firefighter son (her sad ballad, “I Am Here,” was delivered with exquisite tenderness). She was complemented well by Kristin Litzenberg as the joke-telling schoolteacher who befriends her and Addison Garner as the pioneering pilot, Beverley Bass, who presents a show-stopping memoir in song, “Me and the Sky.” Kudos also to Shawn W. Smith, Stanton Morales and Molly Samson as characters transformed by love lost and found.

But the glue that holds the show together is the excellent eight-piece band led by Sarah Pool Wilhelm, which weaves in and out of the action and concludes this inspiring musical with a post-curtain-call jam session.

‘Come From Away’

When: 1:30 and 7 p.m. Sunday; 7:30 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Thursday; 7:30 p.m. Friday; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday; 1:30 p.m. next Sunday

Where: Ordway Music Theater, 345 Washington St., St. Paul

Tickets: $180-$35, available at 651-224-4222 or

Capsule: If your faith in humanity could use a boost and your heart some softening, get to the Ordway.

Rob Hubbard can be reached at

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