Review by Jonathan W. Hickman
It’s fitting that Apple TV+ released the filmed stage play “Come From Away” on the weekend of the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The movie is a unique perspective on the events that changed the world.
On September 11, 2001, amid the chaos of the devastating attacks, Canada, in cooperation with the United States, assisted in housing some 225 to 240 aircraft. In response to other potential threats, the Federal Aviation Administration grounded all flights across the United States. And, as part of what became known as Operation Yellow Ribbon, those planes found safety in places like Gander, a small town on the island of Newfoundland.
In Gander, some 38 jets and 7000 passengers became stranded while a safe passage home was charted. This unprecedented event provided the impetus for writers Irene Sankoff and David Hein’s award-winning musical “Come From Away.” The movie version captures a live performance at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre in New York City. Its audience included frontline workers and 9/11 survivors.
“Come From Away” is a grand celebration of togetherness that tells of thousands of frightened souls marooned in an isolated place at a time when paranoia and fear gripped the world. The true story is a testament to the goodness of humanity. The people of Gander opened their homes and their hearts to strangers from places all over the globe. In the process, friendships develop that endures to this day.
Apart from the poignant circumstances that provide the basis for this musical, “Come From Away” is terrific entertainment. Like “Hamilton,” this production, while stage-bound, is a cinematic achievement. Unlike sitting in the audience, the camera allows the viewer a greater sense of intimacy with the performers. The result is a hybrid kind of viewing experience.
Even when musicals are adapted for the screen, these productions can suffer compared to their stage counterparts. A filmed play can lack the spontaneity that makes a live performance most effective. One successful technique employed by director Tom Hooper in 2012’s “Les Misérables” was to record and film the singing live. The effort was to replicate the naturalness associated with the source material.
Hooper’s labors worked well and gave Anne Hathaway the Oscar, but it also had critics and some viewers making snarky comments about Russell Crowe’s singing skills. Thankfully, “Come From Away” employs the talents of professional Broadway talent, ensuring quality enactments. The performers are of varied ages and backgrounds, with many actors taking on multiple roles. And because of the closeness associated with filmmaking techniques, you can see their colorful transformations.
By filming the stage play, director Christopher Ashley manages to capture some of the magic that made “Come From Away” so popular. And by using the camera purposefully, tracking the action, the production has a life apart from the ordinary stage limitations. It’s a rollicking good time that reminds us of the innate goodness within and that the tragedy of 9/11 also provided an opportunity to bring people together.
“Come From Away” is now streaming on Apple TV+.