It’s been a year, hasn’t it. In 2018, we’ve seen the growth of hate in our society. From shootings to xenophobia, from tribal politics and the detesting of anyone on the other side of the political spectrum. From families being torn apart, from having leadership in our country that is tearing people apart. These are sad, sad times.
But even in the worst of times, there are glimmers of the humanity that make us special, that gives us hope that — just perhaps — people can be better.
The play we saw last night, Come From Away at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), provides us that hope. It was just the right thing to be reminded of as our last live theatre of 2018.
For those unfamiliar with the story behind Come From Away: It tells the story of the small town of Gander, Newfoundland. A small town of perhaps 7,000, it was at one time a major airport with the responsibility of fueling any trans-Atlantic flight. But by 2001, jets had rendered that function obsolete, and they had perhaps a half-dozen flights a day.
Then 9/11 happened. Then the US airspace was closed, and every flight destined for the US was diverted to the nearest airport. For 38 jets from across the world, that airport was YQX, Gander. With no notice, this small town saw its population double, and a need to accommodate, feed, and take care of passengers from these 38 planes for almost a week.
They stepped up. They did. They made friendships. They demonstrated the human spirit of caring and compassion. They didn’t asked to be paid, or for any compensation.
Come From Away is this story. Authors, composers, and lyricists Irene Sankoff and Devid Hein take the thousands of citizens of Gander, and the thousands of airplane passengers, and tell their story with just 12 actors. Under the direction of Christopher Ashley, it becomes a theatrical fugue or theatrical tapestry, weaving together different voices / threads that come together, when viewed at a distance and as a completed whole, that ultimately is captured in the refrain, “Welcome to the Rock”. It is that phrase, “welcome”, that is at the heart of this piece — and that welcome is successful because it is part and parcel with the notion of respecting the Come-from-aways because, ultimately, they are Islanders as well.
It is an attitude that society can do well by remembering. It is an attitude that we saw before the show, when getting coffee after our dinner. My wife was fighting with the Starbucks app, and the person behind us just paid for her coffee. She, in turn, will pay it on. Just think about what our society could be if instead of the hatred that permeates everything today, we had the kindness of the citizens of Gander.
I liked the story here. I liked the message here. I liked the music here (especially the jam session at the end).
Dear Evan Hansen, the show that preceded this at the Ahamanson, had at its heart the message that no one should be forgotten, no one should be alone. It was a message that resonated in our alienated and isolated society of today. But Come From Away gives a stronger message: “Welcome”. Even if you are different. Even if we fear you. Even if you are a Bonobo monkey. We care about you, and you will get through this — no, we will get through this together.
We’re in crappy times. But we will get through this together, through the simple act of welcoming the stranger. What better sentiment to be sharing at this time of year. Don’t build the walls to drive us apart, but say “Welcome, come in, have some tea, and the whisky is in the cabinet downstairs.”
Go see this. You will be uplifted.
The cast for this was truly an ensemble cast — a collection of threads of different sizes and shapes and colors, all of whom were strong. This cast consisted of:
- Kevin Carolan (★FB, FB, TW) — Claude, and others
- Harter Clingman (FB) — Oz, and others
- Nick Duckart (FB) — Kevin J., Ali, and others
- Chamblee Ferguson (FB) — Nick, Doug, and others
- Becky Gulsvig (★FB, TW) — Beverly Annette, and others
- Julie Johnson (FB) — Beulah and others
- Christine Toy Johnson (★FB, TW) — Diane and others
- James Earl Jones II — Bob and others
- Megan McGinnis (★FB, TW) — Bonnie and others
- Andrew Samonsky (FB, TW) — Keven T., Garth, and others
- Danielle K. Thomas (FB) — Hannah and others
- Emily Walton (FB) — Janice and others
With an ensemble cast, it is hard to single out folks. To a person, the actors seemlessly transitioned from character to character — a slight costume change, a slight voice change — and — boom — a new person. It was a remarkable transaction, which showed the remarkable talent of this team. There are a few I would like to especially commend. Becky Gulsvig’s Beverly characterization was really great, and an inspiration to women considering male-dominated careers. I also liked Kevin Carolan’s Mayor Claude. But all of them were great (and I got a kick discovering that we had the entire cast of Daddy Long Legs in this show).
Standbys were: Julie Garnyé (★FB, TW); Marika Aubrey (★FB, TW); Jane Bunting (FB), Adam Halpin (TW), Michael Brian Dunn (FB), and Aaron Michael Ray (FB, TW).
The on-stage band was spectacular, especially during “Screech In” and the closing playoff. I wish they had an album out there of Newfoundland music. The band consisted of: Cynthia Kortman Westphal (FB) [Music Director, Conductor, Keyboard, Accordion, Harmonium]; Isaac Alderson (FB) [Whistles, Irish Flute, Uilleann Pipes]; Kiana June Weber (★FB) [Fiddle]; Adam Stoler (FB) [Electric / Acoustic Guitar]; Matt Wong (FB) [Acoustic Guitar, Mandolins, Bouzouki]; Max Calkin (FB) [Electric / Acoustic Bass]; Steve Holloway (FB) [Bodhran, Percussion]; and Ben Morrow (FB) [Drums / Percussion]. Other music credits: Cameron Moncur [Assoc. Music Director]; David Lai (FB) [Music Coordinator]; Andrew Barrett for Lionella Music LLC [Electronic Music Design]; Zach Redler (FB) and Ryan Driscoll [Music Preparation]; August Eriksmoen [Orchestrations]; Ian Eisendrath [Arrangements, Music Supervision].
Lastly, turning to the remaining creatives and the production team. The wonderful movement and dance was the creation of Kelly Devine. Beowulf Boritt (FB)’s scenic design was simple: trees, chairs, and such. What made the characters even more was Toni-Leslie James‘s costume design and David Brian Brown (FB)’s hair design. Joel Goldes (FB) was the dialect coach. The design elements were supported by the sound design of Gareth Owen (FB) and the lighting design of Howell Binkley (FB). Other production credits: Shawn Pennington [Production Stage Manager]; Geoff Maus [Stage Manager]; Margot Whitney (FB) [Asst. Stage Manager]; Daniel Goldstein [Assst. Director]; Richard J. Hinds (FB) [Assoc. Choreographer]; Telsey + Company [Casting]; Erik Birkeland [Company Manager]; Michael Rubinoff [Creative Consultant]; Juniper Street Productions [Production Manager]; Alchemy Production Group [General Management]; and On The Rialto [Marketing Strategy].
Come From Away continues at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) through January 6th. It will uplift your soul. Go see it. Tickets are available through the Ahmanson Theatre; discount tickets may be available through Goldstar.
Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted (or I’ll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), and the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.
All that is left in December is the obligatory movie on Christmas Day — our one day a year for filmed entertainment.
January is much more open, especially after the postponement of Bat Out of Hell at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Right now, all there is is a Nefesh Mountain concert at Temple Judea and a hold for the Colburn Orchestra at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB) but the rest of the month is currently open (as few shows run in January due to complicated rehearsals over the holidays). We’ll keep our eyes open. February starts with the Cantor’s Concert at Temple Ahavat Shalom (FB), Hello Dolly at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), and Anna Karenena at Actors Co-op (FB). There’s also a HOLD for 1776 at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB), and Lizzie at the Chance Theatre, but much of February is also open.
As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.