THE POWER OF STORYTELLING: A little-known story of 9-11

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Published: 22nd July, 2019

While the big story of the week has been the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, another story of adventure in the skies is lighting up Melbourne’s Comedy Theatre.

Come From Away is a smash hit musical on Broadway and London and now it’s Melbourne’s turn. Melbourne theatergoers will know that the charming Comedy Theatre only has a few hundred seats, so not everyone could be accommodated on the official opening night of July 20, so the producers sensibly allowed reviewers to see a well-run in preview on Thursday 18th July.

For those who have only concentrated on the moon landing anniversary this week, Come From Away is the true story of how the small town of Gander, in Canada’s Newfoundland, embraced an unexpected influx of thousands of plane passengers diverted to their small airport when the terrorist attack of 9-11 shut American airspace.

With so much narrow-mindedness and negativity in the news today, Come From Away is a breath of positive fresh air, showing humanity at its best rather than its worst. No wonder the whole theatre is on its feet applauding at the end – this is no rent-a-crowd, but real people rejoicing in seeing the best of ourselves played out on stage, with inspirational music and story. It is a true ensemble piece with every performer a star, but eagle-eyed theatregoers will spot brilliant veteran all-rounder Richard Piper along with a superb warm-hearted performance from Emma Powell as matriarch Beulah, and a delightful change of pace for Mamma Mia! and Ladies in Black young star, Sarah Morrison. Everyone plays several characters and you walk out of the theatre feeling glad to be alive.

Every performer gets their moment in the spotlight, and it’s a gift of a show for an actor, because each performer gets to play a range of characters, which is always a treat for thespians. And in this case it’s also a treat for the audience.

In this journey we do witness instances of racial prejudice and a fear of sexual prejudice, but each instance is resolved, always with humans displaying understanding and compassion when their prejudices are challenged. With book, music and lyrics written by the team of Irene Sankoff and David Hein, there is also a lot of humour in the show, so your funny bone will be well tickled.

The music, expertly performed by an onstage band directed by Luke Hunter, fits neatly within the action, with each song telling a story. My favourite moment was when one character started singing the well-known contemporary hymn “Make Me a Channel of Your Peace”, also known as “Prayer of St Francis” and simply referred to as “Prayer” in the list of musical numbers. I don’t think I was alone to feel my heart drawn to the simple and positive messages given here. And that’s the mark of the whole show – it is a triumph of the best side of human nature, which we could all do well to emulate. Especially our politicians.

Don’t miss Come From Away– if you can get a ticket!


Julie Houghton reviewed Come From Away at Melbourne’s Comedy Theatre.