Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Also see Susan's review of Blackberry Daze
Sankoff and Hein have created a big-hearted docu-musical about what happened in Gander, Newfoundland, on September 11, 2001. The shutdown of U.S. airspace following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and the crash of Flight 93 in Pennsylvania meant that 38 U.S.-bound planes were forced to make unscheduled landings in Gander, almost doubling the population of the town. The community and its neighbors immediately pulled together, providing emergency shelter and food for a week, bridging the language barrier (the "come-from-aways" came from all parts of the world) and building friendships.
Director Christopher Ashley skillfully balances the humor and the sadness, showing how the people of Gander reached out to unfamiliar people and made them part of their family.
The musical begins with a propulsive opening number introducing the town, led by Claude (Joel Hatch), the mayor; Kelly Devine's choreography has both heart and soul. Music supervisor Ian Eisendrath joins seven other musicians onstage in performing a score that melds Newfoundland folk with elements of the visiting cultures.
When the town of Gander held a 10th-anniversary reunion in 2011, the authors attended and conducted hours of interviews with residents and come-from-aways, distilling the stories into a tight one hour and 45 minutes without intermission. The all-encompassing spirit comes through most directly in a musical scene that interweaves Catholic, Jewish, Muslim and Hindu prayers.
A highly capable cast of 12, all with Broadway and/or regional credits, slide easily from one character to another: for example, Chad Kimball's roles include a Gander school bus driver on strike, a gay businessman named Kevin, and the televised image of President George W. Bush. While some characters have less time than others (Africans who don't speak English, an Orthodox rabbi, an Egyptian facing suspicious fellow passengers), others have a more central role: Beverley (Jenn Colella), an American Airlines pilot horrified that anyone could use airplanes as bombs; Bonnie (Alyssa Wilmoth Keegan), a local SPCA worker looking after animals being transported on the stopped flights; Hannah (Q. Smith), mother of a New York City firefighter; and Diane (Sharon Wheatley) and Nick (Lee MacDougall), who begin as strangers and become very close very fast.