COME FROM AWAY – Book, Music, and Lyrics by Irene Sankoff and David Hein; Directed by Jeff Duke; Music Directed by Michael Querio; Choreographed by Jennifer Lupp. Produced by Rocky Mountain Repertory Theatre (800 Grand Avenue, Grand Lake) through August 22. Tickets available at 970-627-2421 or 

This show is a perfect 10! There is nothing you can fault with this production. It is as perfect as a snowflake. If you can only see one show this summer, this is the one to see. COME FROM AWAY is one of those events that will live in your heart long after you have left the theatre and is destined to be described as “classic” in the years to come. It will be done by professional theatres, community groups, and high schools for generations, keeping this story of generosity and humanity alive. 

This production is guided by a team of professionals who care about this material and this story. I have a copy of this script; there is not one stage direction written in it that demands following. The movement of the characters and the method of telling the story is born from the skill of the director. However, the template created by the original production is so perfect that it will be followed as much as possible by future directors. The movement of the cast of twelve will become as sacred a “dance” as the opening and closing numbers of A CHORUS LINE. Mr. Duke and company have infused this production with heart, humor, and humility. You are filled with the desire to be one of those generous sacrificing Newfoundlanders, to be able to do something that noble with your own life. 

The cast moves with the precision of Irish dancers and the joy and ease of a square dance. There are occasional musical numbers that invite true choreography which are powerfully taught and arranged by Jennifer Lupp. However, to tell a story this huge, the meaningful choreography is in getting each member of the cast in the right place at the right time in the right costume with the right prop in their hand or pocket sitting on the right chair. Quickly. The integration of vocal music with instrumental music, all under the baton of Music Director Michael Querio, along with the combination of dance and meaningful movement enhanced by Ms. Lupp, created a body of work that filled each second of the production. There are no scene changes, no reasons to delay. Costume changes are made on stage with the addition of a cap or a jacket, only to be removed thirty seconds later. Set changes are the movement of twelve chairs and four tables on the stage the entire time to become an airplane, a coffee shop, a bar, and everywhere else in Gander and surrounding villages. It all looks deceptively simple. It’s not. 

This cast brings each character – whether a passenger on a plane or a Newfoundlander on the ground – to life if delivering one line or creating an ongoing story. In turn, they become the scared, then bored, then raucous passengers on a grounded plane – as well as the unprepared population on the ground making frantic preparations for the hundreds of stranded passengers. Blink-of-the-eye kind of changes but done with perfect clarity.  

There is Luiza Vitucci who is the female pilot of one of the downed planes “and others” as designated in the cast descriptions. A sweet warm friendship develops between Hannah, a frightened mother who can’t reach her fireman son, played by Tyler Symone, and Beulah, a Newfoundlander, as played by Megan Opalinski. There are the two Kevins (Mitchell Lewis and Esteban Ortiz-Villacorta), a gay couple who discover their differences while grounded. There is Todd Aulwurm and Jennifer Smith as Nick and Diane, a couple who meet on the plane and develop a sweet relationship. Kelly Maur is Bonnie, the woman who worries more about the animals on the planes than the people. Margot Frank is a fledgling journalist who gets caught up in this chaos on her very first assignment. Matt Frye is sent to the store for supplies over and over again. John Harmon Cooper (who plays Lola in KINKY BOOTS the next night – talk about versatility!) plays a Black man who is fearful of going into the house of a Newfoundlander as a guest – until he’s not. Josh Kellman is the Mayor of the town who negotiates for buses and organizes the citizens. Each actor has an “and others” attached to their name because each plays named and unnamed characters throughout the performance. Each has their chance to shine in this fast-moving story and contribute to the overall glow of joy in the entire production. 

A word about the understudies: Seven people in the acting company have lead roles in the other productions being done in Grand Lake this summer (KINKY BOOTS and THE MUSIC MAN) but are not cast in this show. However, they are on standby to step into multiple roles in COME FROM AWAY should the need arise. It is beyond comprehension how they could slide easily into these complicated parts with little rehearsal. God bless their bravery. My hat goes off to them and may the company remain healthy all summer. 

Just as the cast has been honed to perfection, so too the technical aspects of the show are given professional care. The lighting is crucial to the smooth running of the production; Ethan Newman’s design fulfilled the needs of the script and added atmosphere to the proceedings. DJ Pike designed a wonderful set of projections that enhanced the production and kept us both in the air and grounded in beautiful Newfoundland. The set, designed by Cody Tellis Rutledge and constructed under the management of Joshua J. Allen and his crew, while also deceptively simple, gave meaning to each scene by keeping us in nature. The director (Mr. Duke) and the choreographer (Ms. Lupp) coordinated the costumes to allow for quick and easy changes and ease of movement. The sound design by Sarah D. Speck kept the balance between the singers on stage and the musicians in the pit. 

The message of COME FROM AWAY seems to be that we are all humans trying to make the best of every situation in our lives, good and not-so-good. If we can carry that warm feeling the show engenders into our daily lives, we will be better humans for as long as we can keep “Welcome to the Rock” as our mental mantra. 

A WOW factor of 10! 

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