Amid a slew of documentary programming tied to the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, the best thing to watch turns out to be a streaming Broadway musical. Much like “Hamilton” on Disney+,”Come From Away” delivers a best-seat-in-the-house view, offering a moving, brilliantly shot and staged spectacle that brings that moment unerringly back to life.
The live performance of the Tony-nominated show was filmed in New York for an audience that included Sept. 11 survivors and frontline workers, which only adds to the poignance of a presentation that manages to be uplifting, funny and lump-in-your-throat emotional all at once.
That’s a tribute not only to the production authored by Irene Sankoff and David Hein but also director Christopher Ashley, who in translating the show from stage to film captures the remarkable use of the physical space – with the ensemble cast each playing multiple characters – while putting the cameras in positions that enhance the experience.
Adapted from the book “The Day the World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland,” the fact-based musical tells multiple stories of the 7,000 people temporarily stranded in Gander when 38 flights were grounded after the attacks, almost instantly doubling the size of the small but close-knit community.
The individual tales – of love and loss, bonds strained and friendships forged – are chronicled from a variety of angles, from the logistical challenges to the townsfolk and their heartwarming generosity to the upended lives of those that they refer to as “the plane people,” which has an almost-sci-fi-like ring to it.
Beginning with the opening number “Welcome to the Rock,” the songs represent a masterful mix of styles, most sung by the entire ensemble, who remain on stage at practically all times. The swiveling centerpiece does an enormous amount of heavy lifting, transforming the minimalist set into an airplane interior or the local pub at seemingly a moment’s notice.
The cast is so uniformly good it’s practically impossible to single anyone out, though it’s worth noting the presentation features seven original cast members, including Tony nominee Jenn Colella, who developed a relationship with one of the characters she plays, American Airlines’ first female captain Beverley Bass, that’s a story unto itself. (Photos of cast members with their real-life counterparts at the end merely add to the dramatic wallop.)
As “Hamilton” demonstrated, along with showcases of “American Son,” “What the Constitution Means to Me” and David Byrne’s “American Utopia,” streaming and premium TV have turned out to be godsend during the pandemic in terms of bringing theater into the home, and in this case, beautifully preserving the qualities and feelings associated with that.
In an odd bit of symmetry, “Come From Away” lands a few weeks before the musical that earned the Tony in 2017, “Dear Evan Hansen,” makes its theatrical debut. And it’s no slight to that movie to plainly state that it will be hard-pressed to fly any higher than the residents of Gander and “the plane people” do.
“Come From Away” premieres Sept. 10 on Apple TV+.