Arts

IMAGE: Come From Away/Apple.
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The filmed Broadway show is a triumph of Canadian theatre-making

The drum sounds like a heartbeat, like an invitation, like a warning.

“On the northeast tip of North America, on an island called Newfoundland, there’s an airport. And next to it is a town called Gander.”

Leave it to the genius folks behind Come From Away to lure us into the musical’s talent-rife trap with Apple Maps directions.

I’ve loved Come From Away since 2018 when I first saw the show live in Toronto. The story — that of a tiny, resilient Canadian island overwhelmed by felled international travellers on 9/11 — captured my more sentimental side at the time, soliciting tears and guffaws in quick succession, confronting me with my own ‘away’-ness. As a newcomer to Canada myself, I saw in Come From Away a remarkable representation of the kindness I’d come to experience firsthand from friends and strangers alike in grocery stores and at parties: Come From Away was the real deal, faithful ‘til its final drumbeat to the real-life people behind the story it tells.

I was enamoured.

You remember this about me, Fulc readers: I’m a theatre person, and perhaps clinically so. COVID-19 hit me and my industry hard — loving and missing live theatre during a pandemic has been a bittersweet cross to bear, often lonely and full of contradiction. I’ve missed unearned standing ovations and mid-act farts from elderly patrons — I’ve missed overpriced tickets and sticky spilled Coke.

I’ve missed Come From Away.

When Apple TV+ first announced that they’d would be streaming a pro-shot with the musical’s original Broadway cast, the delight I felt was second to none. 

And boy, did it hold up.

The memories of seeing it in the theatre inundated my tiny basement apartment, the waterworks soaking my sheets. Come From Away, released digitally this year the day before the twentieth anniversary of 9/11, brought back to life the magic of a Broadway show, the anguish of the tragedy behind it, the realities of the systemic racism that tragedy prompted. 9/11 will never be easy to talk about, yet Come From Away encourages discourse — it all but demands memory of that September day in 2001. Come From Away is not pro-American (or even pro-Canadian) propaganda — the musical is somehow truthful in its joy and cultural pride. It is simply a must-watch for anyone missing live performance as much as I do.

It seldom happens that such a cast as Come From Away’s can be preserved digitally forever, eschewing the ephemeral and resting fossilized in the online ether. We saw this phenomenon play out successfully last year with Disney+’s Hamilton, and more recently, with Amazon Prime’s Everybody’s Talking About Jamie. There is a proof of concept that demands discussion en masse: archived live performance works. More shows should be filmed, should be saved for future generations of viewers. Stage-to-screen adaptations are a dicey affair — Dear Evan Hansen, in its painful mediocrity, is proof of that — but these pro-shots are a valuable addition to mass culture, and, in my humble opinion, should continue to be made, even once live theatre inevitably returns at a widespread scale.

Watch Come From Away. Think critically of the event it remembers. Revel in note-perfect performances. Let the drumbeat permeate your skin, your bones, your soul.

Let yourself feel it: you, too, are an islander.