Returning to Melbourne, award-winning musical Come From Away asks, “Where were you on 9/11?”

Returning to Melbourne, award-winning musical Come From Away asks, “Where were you on 9/11?”

2019 performance reviewed by Seb Starcevic.

Tony and Olivier award-winning musical 'Come From Away' will play at Melbourne’s Comedy Theatre once again from 27 August.

“Where were you on 9/11?” Almost everyone old enough to remember September 11, 2001 has an answer to that question. And it’s the basis for Come From Away, a musical set in the aftermath of the fall of the Twin Towers due to return to the Comedy Theatre in Melbourne after a successful run on Broadway.

The musical opened in Sydney in June 2021 before being ravaged by Covid outbreaks, shutdowns and restrictions.  The musical now recommences a national tour in July 2022, premiering at HOTA on the Gold Coast, before moving to Melbourne for a strictly limited season in August, followed by Sydney in November and Canberra in 2023.

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Specifically, the show follows the passengers of 38 planes that were diverted when the United States airspace was closed. In a matter of hours, the real-life town of Gander in Newfoundland, Canada almost doubled in population to accommodate nearly 7000 emergency arrivals – so-called “come-from-aways” – from nearly 100 countries.

Come From Away softens the horror of the worst terrorist attack in US history, a tragedy that claimed 3000 lives and forever changed American domestic and foreign policy, by focusing on how Gander’s residents rose to the challenge of clothing, housing and feeding thousands of stranded strangers. It’s a heart-warming anecdote amid impossibly grim circumstances.

The cast play multiple roles, switching effortlessly between them with simple accent and costume changes. In 2019’s performance, Nicholas Brown portrays one half of a gay couple from LA who are initially wary of being open about their relationship in case the locals are homophobic (they aren’t) as well as a Muslim passenger who’s treated with suspicion and forced to submit to a degrading strip-search. Islamophobia is touched on, but only briefly before the next foot-stomping number.

The set is similarly no-frills, with a scattering of chairs and tables repeatedly rearranged to represent the interior of planes, buses and diners. Otherwise, much of the staging is left to the imagination. It’s a testament to the talent of the cast and the storytelling power of musical theatre that the show never becomes crowded or confusing.

Musically, the show draws from its subject matter, with Newfoundland-inspired, folksy numbers like “Heave Away” and “Screech In”. “Me and the Sky”, a soaring, mournful song in traditional musical theatre style performed by standout Zoe Gertz, is easily the show’s most memorable number. A shout-out goes to “Welcome to the Rock”, the anthemic opening number that establishes the show’s relentlessly upbeat tone.

Despite its seemingly gloomy premise, Come From Away is a fun romp buoyed by a rollicking soundtrack and a worthy message. Those expecting anything more profound than that will be disappointed, but it’s sure to be a crowd-pleaser.

Come From Away won the Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical (Christopher Ashley) and four Olivier Awards including Best New Musical, Best Theatre Choreographer (Kelly Devine), Best Sound Design (Gareth Owen) and Outstanding Achievement in Music.

Since its Australian premiere in 2019 the production has added five Green Room awards, including Best Production and Best Ensemble, to its award tally.

Come From Away returns to Melbourne’s Comedy Theatre from 27 August 2022. 

Tickets for the Melbourne season are on sale on Monday 6 June, with tickets for the Sydney season on sale on Tuesday 14 June. Head here for more info.