“Come From Away” Lands Safely at Proctors

SCHENECTADY — Proctors Theatre is hosting the Canadian musical “Come From Away” for the next week in Schenectady. The musical whisks the audience away from our current pandemic to another time in history that, while incredibly painful, shows the resiliency of the human spirit through kindness toward others.

Based on the true story of events that occurred September 11, 2001, and the days that followed, “Come From Away” tells the heartwarming and heartbreaking stories of passengers diverted to Newfoundland, Canada when American airspace closed and Canadian small towns opened their communities to house, feed, and entertain international travelers from across the globe in the shadow of terrorist attacks.

The musical shares the perspectives of “the plane people” who arrived in Canada unexpectedly and without knowledge of the horrors that had occurred driving them there, and also the townspeople who stepped forward to offer care to these strangers in their isolated, rural areas. This is based on a true story that is often not told. As the world was focused on New York City and a small field in Pennsylvania, there were thousands of others whose planes were diverted to rural Newfoundland for days.

Boldly honest, representing the racism and anti-Muslim reactions from the public at the time, the xenophobia facing international travelers, and also the harsh realities of the loss of life, “Come From Away” somehow still celebrates the warmth of Canadian hospitality, the healing power of friendship, and how faith helps us grieve together.

The music was foot stomping and fun, and included a live band with Irish roots sound. Each actor performed at least two roles, including a plane person and a townsperson. The vocal performances were each spot-on delightful, and the actors reflected the diversity of the human experience of multicultural travelers seeking solace on that terrible day. Connecting through biblical verse, shared experiences of parenthood, and romance, the characters flounder to understand the unfathomable truths of 9/11 while away from home and those they love to comfort them.

Only once did the microphones fail, and then only briefly. The sound showcased the vocalists and instrumentalists beautifully, balancing the whooping joyful sounds from the bars with the grieving mother of an NYC fireman. Sharriese Hamilton’s performance as the mother of the NYC fireman made my heart stop.

But my personal favorite performance was of the plane’s female captain Beverley, who sang about wanting to fly as a girl, overcoming so much sexism, only to lose her passion briefly due to the terrorism.

This musical, like most musicals, pulled strong emotions and did so thoughtfully. Characters representing a town of people who cared about every soul on the planes, including the animal travelers, were believable and not oversimplified or two dimensional. The Canadians were represented with fondness and honesty, highlighting “The Rock’s” reputation for humility, Tim Horton’s, and of course a love of hockey that was put on ice to safely refrigerate food for the visitors who had come from away.

The same actors quickly flipped the roles to represent world citizens. The actors looked like real people who ate real cheeseburgers and fries; there were no skinny showgirls or buff male dancers. But those bodies could sing and dance, with even the older actress jumping from chairs and inspiring mirth through movement. There was a reality not only to how the story emerged, but the very actors on stage who portrayed them looked accurately the part of everyday humans wading through the nightmare of terrorism.

This musical is a must see, even if you don’t love musicals. It does play with humor to offer comfort during difficult emotions. But unlike most musicals, this one isn’t completely predictable or canned. The musical honors what was lost on 9/11, but also those who survived with grace and kindness from our Canadian neighbors. Go see what you might’ve missed that day and the days after; the story is worthy of your gaze.

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