Come From Away: The Canadian feel-good story of the year

Joanna Posted by Joanna at June 12, 2017 15:05:31 June 12, 2017 15:05:31

It almost happened. A Canadian musical came this close to winning a Tony for Best Musical, which would have been a historic first. The New York Times and The Hollywood Reporter both had it down as a favourite to win, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Hugh Jackman, Kevin Spacey, Bryan Adams and Cindy Crawford were among the many stars in its corner. Like The Drowsy Chaperone before it, it won Outstanding Musical at the Drama Desks, but not at the Tonys. Dear Evan Hansen emerged victorious… but the show (about what happened after the town of Gander, Nfld. welcomed nearly 7,000 passengers after 9/11) did not leave emptyhanded.

Christopher Ashley won for Best Director, and said his win was “on behalf of the people of Newfoundland and all the first responders and their families in New York on 9/11.” All night long, the Come From Away Instagram page was posting videos from viewing parties across Canada and the U.S., including in Gander with the real-life people who inspired their on-stage counterparts. “Welcome to the Rock,” the song which was performed at the Tonys, was trending in Canada for hours, and the cast got to dance with the Rockettes in addition to their big number.

Oh, and according to The Globe and Mail’s J. Kelly Nestruck, the show – which is the fifth Canadian-written show to land on Broadway – is in the “$1-million a week” box office club. Come From Away, which sold out its Toronto run late last year, will also start a touring production and visit Winnipeg, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa in addition to returning to Toronto.

The show is amazing. Really. I saw it in Toronto last November and fell in love. I’ve since listened to Jenn Colella’s rendition of “Me and The Sky” at least 455 times (…at work) and produced about 10 completely objective features about the show and its Cinderella story for work. But it took a while for the show to get to Broadway. It was first produced at Sheridan College in 2012 and 2013, and after turns in La Jolla, Seattle, and D.C., it made one last pre-Broadway pitstop in Toronto. Its creators are a Canadian husband-and-wife team whose previous biggest credit was "My Mother's Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding". Somehow, through the enduring appeal of its incredible story – which is admittedly a hard sell – Come From Away has become a smash in each market, in spite of its not-so-starry cast and all-new music.

Here’s how it won over The Hollywood Reporter’s Scott Feinberg last month, with four weeks to go before the Tonys:

“A "9/11 musical" may sound like even less fun than "the Oslo Accords play," but Come from Away is every bit as much of a must-see as Oslo. It's a Capra-esque portrayal of a true story that celebrates tolerance and kindness — especially toward foreigners — at a time when those things seem to be in short supply. There's a reason why this is the show that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invited Ivanka Trump to see with him… THR theater critic Frank Scheck called it "the feel-good show of the season," and I think the fact that it really is that — as much as its winning cast, including best featured actress in a musical Tony nominee Jenn Colella, with her awesome solo "Me and [The] Sky" — could tip things in its favor. Unlike The Great Comet and Dear Evan Hansen or the current news cycle, there's no shortage of people to root for in this musical, and people may just want a pick-me-up.”

But, the Tonys went for Dear Evan Hansen. The writing was on the wall for Come From Away when it went emptyhanded in some of the categories it was predicted to win, like Best Book, or Featured Actress in a Musical (Jenn Colella, the sole acting nominee). Those wins both went to Hansen. The Director win was a shining moment of hope, but ultimately Dear Evan Hansen had the night’s momentum. Having said that, hopefully Come From Away’s late surge (previews started in February, the show opened in March) and enduring spirit will see this crowdpleaser earn even more box office dollars, so more people across the country can take it in and feel its message. 

Theo Wargo/ Getty Images

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