REVIEW: Sold-out 'Come From Away' an uplifting recollection of kindness amid terrorism

A diverse group of people stand in a cluster and sing and dance together.
Touring Cast of COME FROM AWAY 2023 Credit Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade_0098

By Cale Blakely

The national tour of “Come From Away” brought the small Canadian community of Gander to life on the Eisenhower Auditorium stage Nov. 7 in a sold-out Penn State debut.

The Broadway show has won Tony, Olivier and Drama Desk awards, among others. The Nov. 7 production fully deserves the love, with an excellent production in all aspects. It's my personal favorite for the 2023-24 season so far. The technicians, musicians and actors all were phenomenal, and they worked together to create an unforgettable, engrossing and atmospheric production.

“Come From Away” showcases events that took place in the days after Sept. 11, 2001, on the island of Newfoundland. Thirty-eight planes were diverted from their destinations and forced to land on the island after the terrorist attacks, leaving 7,000 passengers stranded in the town of Gander.

The extensive number of islanders and the passengers are played by a cast of 12, the characters highlighting individual accounts of real people from that time. The multiple-character nature of the show works well in developing its sense of community, fluidly changing between characters to represent how the people of Gander and the outsiders' differences are skin-deep and superficial.

The entire cast is also onstage for most of the show, contributing to the cramped atmosphere that the people of the town would have felt in those days. Well-planned lighting works toward this purpose and can shift the mood significantly throughout the show.

Spotlights were used to highlight individual stories. Tense moments of conflict would leave a bubble of darkness around the scared and trapped passengers, and wide bright lighting helped make the environment feel warm and welcoming in its happiest moments. These lighting techniques made the show feel much more vibrant and alive than it would have felt otherwise.

The musicians put in their fair share of work too, underscoring almost the entire show. The music served well in driving the pace forward, with a heavy percussive element dictating whether a scene was fast and frenetic or more slow and mellow. With the ensemble being on stage for the production rather than its typical spot in front of the actors, the soundtrack enveloped the performers and audience, drawing everyone into the land of Newfoundland with the traditional music of the area.

Overall, I left the show feeling inspired by the kindness and respect the people of Gander showed the lost and weary souls who were led to their doorstep. Sept. 11 was our nation's darkest moment, but those islanders did all they could to make the moment more bearable for the passengers on those planes.

Cale Blakely is a communications intern for the Center for the Performing Arts.

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