So while the rest of y'all were dumping on the still-not-yet-widely-available movie adaption of Dear Evan Hansen (I’ll talk about that whole thing with more nuance at a later point), or maybe making fun of Amazon Prime’s Cinderella, there’s actually 2 September movie musicals that deserve way more . One is Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, releasing on Amazon Prime the 17th–I’ll probably talk more about that next week. Then, technically a proshot of the Broadway music itself, there’s Come From Away on Apple TV+, released Sept. 10 just before the 20th anniversary of 9/11. Apple seems to be quite popular now with Ted Lasso and Schmigadoon and all (I haven’t yet started either), maybe because you all got a new iPhone recently like I did, so please please set aside some time to watch this. It’s only a little over an hour and a half!
I’ve wanted to see Come From Away since I’d first heard of it, probably around the 2017 Tony Awards, where it was one of the three front runners in the post-Hamilton craze where younger people were getting into new shows and listening to cast albums around the world, including me.
Come From Away has been very successful, with productions popping up all over the world–fittingly for its subject matter–and. But it has been quieter than its challengers: Dear Evan Hansen has stuck around but lost its critical glamour now that people have had access to the actual rather baffling story instead of just out-of-context songs (seriously, I’ve read the libretto, and Act 2 takes a bizarre left turn narratively…but more on that some other time), while Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 is still mourned by its cult following that has likely increased since the success of composer/lyricist Dave Malloy’s Octet and director Rachel Chavkin’s Hadestown, where she won the Tony. (The 2017 Tonys are in general considered cursed, in part because the host was not good and subsequently known to be a sexual predator within the industry, and because Great Comet and Falsettos in the revival category were utterly robbed. The Tonys as always should be taken with a grain of salt.)
Come From Away director Christopher Ashley ended up winning the tony for Best Direction of a Musical, a break from the Dear Evan Hansen sweep that was happening (a standard pop score winning over Dave Malloy’s operatic pastiche of genres, really?), even if even back then I thought Chavkin should have won it for the way they reconfigured the seating and set (maybe that counts as set design?).
Okay, I’m getting way too bogged down here, but I do have a point to make: the Internet and its most popular memes prefer anger and general simplistic negative emotions. Seems a bit odd considering how much joy as cat videos have brought us over the years, but here I am getting upset that people are upset, and all their negative energy toward DEH and Cinderella are hurting the actually good Come From Away and (most likely, but even just based on stage show alone) Jamie. Sure, there’s name recognition and marketing budget size to be aware of that is leading to this disparity. But that also tells you about where studios want to put their money. Regardless though, I’m up for a proshot over an attempt at a movie musical any day.
(That said, “oh, why can’t we all just be positive?” is in itself too simplistic. It downplays real hurt caused by things that won’t change without speaking up. And, of course, not everything is hunkey-dorey–something Come From Away acknowledges, though it falls into the trap of “wow, kindness solves everything!” perhaps too sentimentally at the end.)
Unlike the bizarre turns the Tony-winning book of Dear Evan Hansen takes, Come From Away is remarkably efficient at storytelling. This is appropriate, of course–the show takes place over just a few days and follows frantic scrambling to accommodate strangers, international flyers stuck on a plane for 28 hours,. The folksy songs bleed in and out of dialogue scenes and into the next song. It isn’t completely a sung-through musical, but the show is a little over an hour and a half and the album is an hour and five minutes.
What’s perhaps more difficult for an audience to get a grasp on is how much longer communication took. Toward the beginning, the passengers trapped on the planes rarely have cell phones, nevermind reception or a charged battery for them to work. They do not know what happened in the U.S., and rumors fly. They do not know if their loved ones are safe–and it’s easy to imagine the flip side, where their loved ones are worried sick about their relatives who were flying.
If I was still teaching, I’d use Come From Away as a mentor text for identifying character motivation–even though each one of the 12 actors plays at least two characters (usually one from Gander and one from the plane, though not always). They distinguish themselves with different jackets, hats and religious headwear, glasses, and (somewhat dodgy) accents, which becomes a bit of a plot point in “Costume Party” to humorous effect as the travelers have to put on strangers’ clothes (well, jackets) after the first night. Somehow, it doesn’t get confusing.
And boy, did I become invested in their near-singular quests. The most poignant is Hannah, a New Yorker whose son is a missing firefighter. Captain Beverly Bass wants the planes flying again, while Jenn Colella’s other character, the townie Annette, really wants to have sex apparently. Bonnie really wants to make sure those animals on the plane are taken care of. The Egyptian Ali, who owns a restaurant, just wants some good food and to not be racially profiled. The Kevins, who are a couple, are nervous about encountering homophobia and are drifting apart. And the single Englishman Claude and divorced Texan Diane want each other, in a blustering, hesitant way.
Yes, perhaps the boiled-down focus of each character means they aren’t as fleshed out as they would be if the story had a smaller scope, and I’m sure some liberties were taken from the real-life people (and a chimpanzee) they are based on (stick around for the end credits to see their pictures)…but because of the nature of the story and its time in history, we see a spectrum of emotion.