REVIEW: Come From Away, Leeds Grand Theatre, until May 11 (book ****, songs ***)

Sara Poyzer’s pilot Beverley in Come From Away

“COME from away” is the term Newfoundlanders use for someone who is visiting there or lives on the island but was born elsewhere.

Rather more polite and welcoming than the Cornish nickname for tourists or outsiders in each summer’s influx of visitors: “Emmet”. Meaning? Ant!

On one day, the 10,000 population of Gander, Newfoundland, grew by more than a third when nearly 7,000 airline passengers found themselves stranded in the small Canadian town after 38 planes were grounded. That day was September 11 2001, the fateful day of 9/11.

Irene Sankoff and David Hein’s Olivier and Tony Award-winning musical is the true story of how the Canadian community welcomed the “come from away” strangers into their homes for five days in this temporary new-found land.

The political world was in turmoil, but at such times the best of humanity comes through too, times where we find common ground – in acts of kindness – amid the threat of heightened global division.

Come From Away is billed as a “life-affirming, uplifting celebration of hope, humanity and unity”: characteristics ripe for the musical format, but vital too is the storytelling, the narrative drive, that encapsulates connection and communication between town and world, rooted as much in humour as the desperate uncertainty of what may have befallen loved ones in New York or Washington DC.

Directed by Christopher Ashley, Come From Away is first and foremost an ensemble piece, its cast omnipresent, all pulling together to mirror the well-told, well-judged, big-hearted story with its balance of comforting comic relief and sadness, rousing spirit and silent shock, good deeds and grief.

Kirsty Hoiles’s Diane and Daniel Crowder’s Nick in Come From Away

Within that collective structure, Sankoff and Hein weave the individual tales of the resolute town mayor Claude (Nicholas Pound); the first female American Airlines captain (Sara Poyzer’s pilot Beverley); the mother of a New York firefighter (Bree Smith’s Hannah); the young local news reporter thrown in at the deep end (Natasha J Barnes’s Janice) and an animal welfare devotee (Rosie Glossop’s Bonnie).

Love plays its part too: blossoming in the case of Daniel Crowder’s typically stiff Englishman Nick and Kirsty Hoiles’s Diane; fracturing, however, for Mark Dugdale’s Kevin and Jamal Zulfiqar’s Kevin.

The opening ensemble number Welcome To The Rock sets the musical tone, with its high-energy, righteous fusion of Irish and folk vibrancy under Andrew Corcoran’s musical direction, with band members in view in the wings and sometimes bursting into the limelight centre stage later in the show.

The pace in Ashley’s direction and Kelly Devine’s musical staging is relentless, albeit with ballads for breathing space and reflection; everything a rush, a scramble of emotions, a need for instant practical measures, countered by the agony of awaiting dreaded news.

That sense of unnatural speed in unnatural circumstances is enhanced by a running time of only 100 minutes with no interval.  The songs tend to rush by too, full of zest and zing in the moment, but largely without the melodic classicism of Broadway’s golden era, although Beverley’s ballad, Me And The Sky, flies high.

Maybe that deficiency in earworms will matter to you, but judging by the standing ovation on press night, the hum of humanity triumphs.

Come From Away, Leeds Grand Theatre, until Saturday, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Thursday and Saturday matinees. Box office: 0113 243 0808 or