On September 10, 2021, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of September 11, 2001, Apple TV+ is debuting Entertainment One, RadicalMedia, and Junkyard Dog Productions’ stunning stage capture of Broadway’s Come From Away. Filmed live at Broadway’s Gerald Schoenfeld Theater in May 2021, the film is both a celebration of humanity’s penchant for kindness in the face of adversity and Broadway’s attempt to make a post-pandemic related lockdown return to vibrancy.
Directed by Christopher Ashley, who won both the Tony Award and Laurence Olivier Award for directing the stage musical, the film expertly captures what makes Come From Away such a spellbinding theatrical event. Fearing a stage-to-screen capture may feel contrived, I was particularly concerned the cast doubling, which thematically showcases how similar we all are, would read as corny. Yet, Ashley’s film direction makes his doubling concept for the stage work well in live capture too. He also balances the use of close-ups, full-stage shots, camera pans, and more to make the experience feel simultaneously filmic and intimate. Ashley’s film plays beautifully at home and reminds us, especially those who haven’t stepped foot inside a theater since before the pandemic, how magical experiencing live performance is.
Gifted with the musical’s most memorable and endearing musical moment, Jenn Colella delivers an absolutely unforgettable performance singing “Me and the Sky.” Building up to that moment, Colella expertly draws us into her characterization of Beverly Bass through her multiple conversations with her husband Tom and how, as a person with assigned authority, she employs generous amounts of empathy when communicating with the passengers of her plane.
Other standout performances include Q. Smith’s portrayal of Hannah O’Rourke, a woman who spends much of the musical desperately trying to get in touch with her son who is a New York City firefighter, and Astrid Van Wieren’s portrayal of Beulah Davis, a woman who befriends Hannah. The tender and warm dynamic these women share is incredibly touching. Portraying a heartwarming romance, Jim Walton, as Doug, and Sharon Wheatley, as Diane, add a layer of joyful ebullience to the production. Caesar Samayoa’s deftly sympathetic portrayal of an Islamic Egyptian who becomes a quick target of Islamophobia serves as a poignant reminder of how cruel fear can make humans.
As a true ensemble show, the entire cast of Come From Away must perform at their absolute best to make the material work. The Broadway cast delivers with aplomb in this film. Petrina Bromley’s charismatic veterinarian Bonnie Harris, De’Lon Grants cautiously skeptical yet outspoken Bob, Joel Hatch’s no-nonsense mayor of Gander Claude Elliott, Tony LePage’s genial Kevin Tuerff, Emily Walton’s green news anchor Janice Mosher, and Paul Whitty’s charming Oz Fudge all add wonderful amounts of comedy and tangible heart to the production.
As the musical’s plot unfolds and the 7,000 “plane people” are brought up to speed about the devastating events of September 11, 2001, the entire company sings “Lead us out of the darkness / Lead us somewhere to safety / Lead us far from disaster.” These sentiments definitely define the ethos of the world in the moments, days, weeks, and months following the terrorist attacks of 9/11. But, they are applicable to our ethos now as we stay constrained by a global pandemic where variant strains have almost completely dashed the hopes of a summer of liberation turning into a fall of freedom from the coronavirus. Without a doubt, the September 10, 2021 release date of Come From Away on Apple TV+ honors the 20th anniversary of 9/11, but it also comes a time when many of us may need reminders to be compassionate and empathetic to others as we’re all still struggling to be led out of the darkness and away from the disaster of COVID-19.