Post-9/11 Musical Inspires Hope in Times of Tragedy
On March 12, 2017, a new musical Come From Away had its official opening night at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre. The show had been running in previews since February 18, 2017. The musical has book, music, and lyrics by husband and wife songwriting team Irene Sankoff and David Hein. Newcomers to Broadway, this duo has been working for a long time to bring their biggest work yet to the major league. The show premiered at the La Jolla Playhouse in California in June 2015, followed by the Seattle Repertory Theatre later that year. Enjoying extended runs in both cities, Come From Away even broke box office records in Seattle. Two more productions would take place before the show found its way to Broadway: first at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. in the fall of 2016, and then at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto, Ontario over the 2016-2017 holiday season. The show is directed by Christopher Ashley, the artistic director of the La Jolla Playhouse, whose previous Broadway credits include the 2000 production of The Rocky Horror Show, the 2007 production of Xanadu, and the 2009 production of Memphis. The Broadway cast includes Petrina Bromley as Bonnie, Geno Carr as Oz, Jenn Colella as Beverley and Annette, Joel Hatch as Claude, Rodney Hicks as Bob, Kendra Kessebaum as Janice, and Chad Kimball as Kevin T. and Garth.
Upon its opening night, critics were generally overwhelmed with praise for Come From Away. Ben Brantley of The New York Times called the show “a gale of good will” and a “big bearhug of a musical.” Meanwhile, Joe Dziemianowicz of the New York Daily News found the show to be a crowd-pleaser, inspired by the way the musical demonstrates the when times are tough, people coming together can make it all better. In addition, Joe Westerfield of Newsweek praised the musical for taking its audience to a place that it didn’t know it wanted to go, and then making it wish it never had to leave. Frank Scheck of the Hollywood Reporter found the show “heartwarming” and “thoroughly entertaining.” As for Peter Marks of The Washington Post, he found the show to be “effervescent” and a great antidote for our American soul. Steven Suskin of The Huffington Post found the show to be different and gripping, calling it “brave” and “heart-tugging.” Finally, Johnny Oleksinski of the New York Post called Come From Away the biggest surprise of the season, and stated that “every New Yorker must see this show.”
A Tough Sell, but Will Box Office Rise to the Occasion?
It is difficult for a new musical to find its audience when it has nether neither big stars nor a recognizable title. In the case of Come From Away, this musical may just be a contender for some of the most desired Tony Awards, but that won’t be for several more months. The question is whether this string of positive reviews will be powerful enough to send the box office to a level where the producers can rest assured that the show will go on for a long time, allowing for the New York Post’s dictum that every New Yorker must see it. In the last reported week of box office figures, the week ending March 12, 2017, Come From Away brought in a weekly gross of $632,318, which represents 58.12% of its gross potential. Over the course of the four weeks to date, the average percentage reached of gross potential has been 64.61%. While this is not terrible, the show will have a hard time earning any profits if it remains at this level. Therefore, the producers can only hope that these positive reviews will inject some lifeblood into the box office demand. In any case, the show will be around for quite a while longer, and word of mouth has been known to have a domino effect.
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