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Heart-stirring ‘Come From Away’ has only improved in years since it launched in La Jolla

The North American touring production of "Come From Away," now playing at the San Diego Civic Theatre.
The cast of the North American touring production of “Come From Away,” which is now playing at the San Diego Civic Theatre.
(Matthew Murphy)

Lively folk-infused musical is about the post-9/11 world, but even more about human kindness

Seven years ago in June, “Come From Away” made its world premiere at La Jolla Playhouse, and for the first time since it moved on to Broadway and then the world, it’s back this week in a touring production at the San Diego Civic Theatre.

On opening night in 2015, I remember being moved to tears by the show’s heart, its Celtic folk-rock music, its propulsive energy and Christopher Ashley’s exquisite and deceptively simple direction. Seeing it again onstage Wednesdayat the Civic, my affection for the show has only grown.

“Come From Away” is based on the true story of how residents in the small town of Gander in Canada’s island province of Newfoundland mobilized to care for, feed and house roughly 6,600 stranded international air travelers, after 38 passenger jets were grounded there for days in the wake of the terrorist bombings on Sept. 11, 2001.

But the real message of the show by married Canadians Irene Sankoff and David Hein is about kindness and how humans have the capacity to selflessly care for one another in the wake of race- and faith-motivated hate crimes — which has only multiplied in the past 21 years. The musical’s message of goodness and tolerance are sweet salve during the same week mass shootings have targeted Black and Taiwanese Americans.

A scene from the national touring production of "Come From Away."
A scene from the national touring production of “Come From Away,” playing through Sunday, May 22, at the San Diego Civic Theatre.
(Matthew Murphy)

Twelve actors play all the roles of Gander’s welcoming townfolk and the grounded international passengers (“come from away” is what Newfoundlers call island visitors). The multitalented touring cast are strong singers, actors and dancers who can pop in and out of Canadian, African, European and multiple American dialects. Standouts include James Earl Jones II, Julia Knitel, Jenny Ashman, Kevin Carolan, Danielle K. Thomas and Julie Johnson.

The actors interact with an onstage eight-piece folk band and use their hands and feet to create pounding percussion for songs like the infectious ensemble piece “Welcome to the Rock,” the grieving mother’s ballad “I Am Here” and the moving number “Stop the World,” which is about learning how to adapt to a world that will never be the same.

Ashley, who won a Tony Award for his direction of “Come From Away,” worked with musical stager Kelly Devine to create an entire island community and the grounded planes with just a few chairs, tables, hats, jackets and boxes. The mastery of their vision can be seen in one scene where two “come from away” passengers walk along a rocky ocean cliff that’s constructed from an ever-revolving series of chairs being moved into place one by one by other members of the cast.

Last year, Ashley directed a film version of “Come From Away” that’s now streaming on Apple TV+. But being in the theater with these actors and musicians as they tell this remarkable and true story — which never lets up for a moment during its fast-moving 90 minutes — is something that should be experienced live.

‘Come From Away’

When: 7:30 p.m. tonight, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 1 and 6 p.m. Sunday

Where: San Diego Civic Theatre, 1100 Third Ave., San Diego

Tickets: $30.50 and up

Online: broadwaysd.com


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