On March 12, Manhattan’s Gotham Hall was abuzz with Islanders—honorary and actual—in celebration of opening night of Come From Away. The new rave-reviewed musical from the Canadian writing team of Irene Sankoff and David Hein bowed at Broadway’s Schoenfeld Theatre after starting as a small workshop in Canada, followed by development at Connecticut’s Goodspeed Opera House, out-of-town tryouts at La Jolla Playhouse in California, Seattle Repertory in Washington, Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C., and the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto, Canada. The ensemble cast and creative team joined Playbill on Facebook Live from the red carpet to talk about the arrival on Broadway of what they call this “9/12 story” about the events in Gander, Newfoundland, Canada, when 38 planes were diverted to their airport and the town population approximately doubled with the “come from aways” who needed shelter and support.
Cast member Caesar Samayoa was the first to welcome us (4:00) to “the most amazing opening I’ve ever been a part of.” He—and ten other members of the 12-member cast—has been with the show since its La Jolla run in 2015 and felt overwhelmed to bring the story “home” to New York. “The feeling is a little bit different in each city that we’re in, but the crowd reaction at the end is always so overwhelming. When the lights go out, it feels like you’re punched in the gut with love and joy.”
Samayoa also pointed out that the intricacies of the show and the quick timing necessary for all of the actors to play multiple characters is due to “[choreographer] Kelly Devine and [director] Chris Ashley [who] have done magic.”
Devine joined us (15:22) to talk about the precision of her musical staging for the show. “It was about those old theatre tricks … how do you take 12 chairs and turn it into a plane and a bus and two buses…. It was really fun,” she said.
“I would be on planes and testing all the stuff and putting myself in a state of anxiety … taking a big observation of actually how much space you have. How much head space do you have? They’d stand up and I’d be like, ‘Guys, you just hit your head.’”
Proud writers Sankoff and Hein spoke to us (18:40) about discovering the story and making lifelong friends among the Gander community while writing the show. With so many stories to tell, the team used “music to help us go quickly from one storyline to another.” “It was the same emotional experience we had out there, and just as we were about to well up, they’d tell us a joke and say, ‘It’s okay,’” said Hein. The duo also revealed which song in the score was the first song they wrote and how they came to establish the sound of the show (21:00).
Come From Away Opening Night on Broadway
Throughout the night, Playbill spoke to cast members Geno Carr (29:49), Kendra Kassebaum (37:20), Q. Smith (49:05), and Joel Hatch and Lee MacDougall (56:50) about taking on multiple dialects, multiple emotional arcs, the non-stop physicality of the show, and more. Jenn Colella (38:48) talked about bonding with her real-life counterpart, Beverly Bass, and she and co-star Chad Kimball showed us their pre-show ritual (36:36)!
Sharon Wheatley (51:00) divulged to us that she actually shared a personal arc with her character, Diane, as she ended up going through a divorce during the time she worked on Come From Away. Rodney Hicks (53:00) not only shared a line reading from his character Bob, but also revealed what a personal effect the show has had on him. “I now carry dollar bills in my pocket, and I just give it out or I pay for someone randomly,” said Hicks.
Astrid Van Wieren, making her Broadway debut, closed the livestream (56:25) with her incredible warmth and shared a story about what audiences didn’t get to learn about Beulah through the show that she learned, having inhabited her onstage and getting to know the real Beulah. After time with Playbill, the cast and creative team made their way to the dance floor where the live band played Celtic tunes all night long. They’re Islanders, all right.
Come From Away plays the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre. Click here for tickets and information.