Grab your vaccination card and your mask, the Kravis Center is back in business. And since its Broadway series is opening with Come From Away, the true-life tale of a tiny Canadian town that welcomed the bewildered passengers of 38 diverted airplanes on 9/11, you might as well pack a box of Kleenex too.
The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon have inspired many a play and movie, but none so heartfelt, touching and, yes, upbeat, as this unlikely musical by the Canadian husband-and-wife team of David Hein and Irene Sankoff.
They began with a remarkable story — how some 6,700 people of various nationalities, religions and persuasions descended on Gander, Newfoundland, and were welcomed generously and with an unbounded generosity of spirit. Store shelves were emptied to feed and clothe these uninvited strangers, schools, churches and private homes flung open their doors to house them and phone banks were created to allow them to call worried loved ones back home.
Perhaps it is the nature of Canadians to be so kind, or maybe it is inherent in human nature to respond this way in the face of such overwhelming tragedy. But among the questions Come From Away brings to mind is how would we Americans respond were we faced with a similar situation.
The story is related by a cast of 12, a community chorus that plays both the passengers of a particular American Airlines flight and the citizens of Gander. They change back and forth in seconds, donning costume pieces and switching accents, eh, all the while narrating the harrowing tale with surprisingly good humor.
With just a few lines of dialogue, vivid characters emerge. There’s Kevin and Kevin, a gay couple expecting to encounter small-town homophobia but finding something very different in Gander. There’s an awkward Englishman and a Texas woman who fall in love amid the chaos. The mother of a firefighter who is missing in action, last heard from at Ground Zero. A rabbi unable to eat for lack of kosher food. And on and on.
Come From Away is that rare show where the book is stronger than the score, really more of a play with music than a full-blown musical. It opens well with a foot-stomping choral number, “Welcome to the Rock,” but there are few memorable numbers until late in the intermissionless evening when female pilot Beverley (Marika Aubrey) delivers a standout biographical solo, “Me and the Sky.”
Tony-winning director Christopher Ashley knits the dozen performers into a tight, kinetic ensemble with an assist from musical stager Kelly Devine. Scenic designer Beowulf Borritt contributes a spare, but versatile set expertly lit by the late Howell Binkley.
Come From Away is as unusual a musical as its subject matter suggests. But let its big-hearted story flow over you and do not be surprised when it grabs you emotionally. That’s when the Kleenex will come in handy.
COME FROM AWAY, Kravis Center Dreyfoos Hall, 701 Okeechobee Blvd,, West Palm Beach. Through Sunday, Nov. 21. $33-$93. 561-832-7469.