This week, in commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, Apple are releasing Come From Away on Apple TV+. The film is a stage recording of the musical recorded live this May before an audience of 9/11 survivors and frontline workers.
Based on true events, the musical tells the story of a small community in Newfoundland, Canada, and the thousands of airline passengers stranded there after their flights are diverted in the wake of 9/11. The locals are tasked with taking in these “come from aways” and helping them as they deal with being far from home, all while coping with the horrific tragedy they’ve all just experienced.
Being a fan of musicals and having already seen the trailer for this one, I went into my viewing with high expectations. Come From Away did not disappoint.
Though it’s plenty entertaining and touching in and of itself, the timing of this release makes it about more than just the show. Its premiere on the 20th anniversary of a tragedy that has had such an impact on so many gives the musical an even deeper emotional edge.
Not to mention that it’s a Broadway show releasing in the middle of a pandemic. Among its other effects, the current world situation has brought on a long drought for live theatre fans and workers. Performance halls are closed; shows have been cancelled and tickets refunded. It’s been a tough time.
Which is why I’m thankful some streamers have taken this opportunity to become patrons of the arts and make live theatre performances broadly available to all. It was such a rush to see actors performing live onstage and feel like part of an audience again. That’s not an experience I’ve had in quite some time, and I’m grateful for it.
But enough meta commentary. Let’s talk about the musical, because regardless of the circumstances surrounding it, I think it’s worth seeing. There are several elements of the show that set it apart for me.
First of all, the cast is just incredible. It features several members of the original Broadway production as well as some newcomers. The entire troupe is made up of only 12 actors, with each of them playing multiple parts throughout the show with drastically different personalities, mannerisms, and accents. The passengers on the flights were from all around the world, after all.
Without any fancy backdrops or set pieces, the actors convey their various characters and settings with only body language and very simple costume changes, such as adding a jacket or a hat. It was jarring the first couple of times I saw an actor switch roles so suddenly, but the performances were so well done that I quickly bought into it.
The standout performance has to be Jenn Colella, who plays both Beverley, a pilot trying to keep her passengers safe in unfamiliar territory, and Annette, a Newfoundland local with quirks to spare. Colella does such an outstanding job of portraying the despair and burden that Beverley carries, and in the next scene, she’s offering heaps of comedic relief as Annette. Just a brilliant performance, and her rendition of the song “Me and the Sky” is one I won’t soon forget.
All of the cast members give brilliant performances, though. And because the show features dozens of different characters, it’s able to portray a wide range of experiences and emotions felt in the wake of 9/11. From a mother worried about her son in the New York Fire Department, to a loaner from London trying to find any sort of connection in all of this, to a man of Middle Eastern descent facing immense suspicion and discrimination due to no wrongdoing of his own, this show has it all.
What do we do when the unimaginable happens? That’s the question Come From Away seeks to answer, I think it does so beautifully.
It’s fun and comedic at times, touching and heartbreaking at others, but throughout its two hours, the show ultimately reflects the resilience and selfless potential of the human spirit even in the face of horrific tragedy. That’s a truth we desperately needed to hear twenty years ago, and it’s one we need to be reminded of just as much today. I’m thankful for a show that does just that.
‘Come From Away’ premieres on Apple TV+ this Friday, September 10.