I suppose you could say that I have odder-than-usual preferences when it comes to musicals. I’m probably the only person on this planet that can’t stand Rodger’s and Hammerstein’s two highly-acclaimed musicals OKLAHOMA! and Cinderella, neither of which amount to being much more than fluff in my opinion. I like my musicals bloody, broody, depressing, mysterious, and to actually mean something that questions who we are as human beings. Among these would be my four favorite musicals: Sweeney Todd, Les Miserables, The Phantom of the Opera, and Little Shop of Horrors. Death and mayhem beat at the heart of every one of them, but they also have the capacity to cause me to shed tears both happy and sad as I journey with their very deep characters, laugh at their humor, and experience emotions that leave me wanting more. Some musicals have none of these abilities, and the one I’m about to tell you about has none of them. Last Saturday, the hubster and I were able to score some free tickets to go to the Connor Palace in downtown Cleveland to see a relatively new musical called Come From Away. For those of you unfamiliar with it, it tells a true story that takes place in the tiny town of Gander in Newfoundland, a town that woke up one morning to discover that about 7000 people were about to become their guests, and they certainly were not tourists; they were the passengers of the 38 planes rerouted for their own safety on the day of the 9/11 attacks. No one knew how long the stranded passengers would be there, but one thing was certain: they would all need food, clothing, and places to sleep. I’m not certain this would be great fodder for making a musical. A documentary probably. Maybe even a movie. But how was it as a musical? It sucked. Stay with me, and I’ll tell you why in a moment. Sometimes, free tickets aren't always such a good thing. I’m beginning to wonder if my mother caught wind of the negative reviews of this atrocity of a stage production and pretended that she had to work that day so she could give the tickets to me and spend an afternoon at home on the couch. Just kidding, Mom. I know you meant well, but I’m truly sorry that you actually spent money on this show. You’re better off seeing The Lion King, trust me. I don’t know if I’m just missing something, or maybe I just don’t like “fluffy” musicals, but I really think Come From Away should have just stayed away. Nearly every review I’ve read about this musical has been good, or at least favorable. Very few have been negative, and I’m sorry to say that this is the crowd I’m part of. Maybe I just need a few more therapy sessions. What was so horrible about Come From Away? I suppose I should start with the positive, since that won’t take long.
-The cast was very talented and their voices were pleasant on the ears, but even their level of talent was not enough to carry the show, similar to how a big-name actor cannot carry the weight of an entire film on his shoulders. They can do their best, but it still comes down to writing skills, music, and all the other group elements that are welded together to create a finished product that audiences will like. Oh wait...this was supposed to be the positive stuff.
-The lack of scene changes. Imagine a movie with the same set being used in every scene, regardless of where the scene was supposed to be, or what it was about. I’m sorry, but you’re never going to convince me that a brick wall is an airplane door. The stage was set up to look like the inside of a bar...and except for the chairs being moved around into different positions for every song, that was it. No imagination was put into the set design. Even though my tickets had been free, I still felt ripped off, because I’ve seen high schools do better with set design. That’s rather pathetic when you’re only paying 20 bucks a ticket to see something designed by a bunch of teenagers in the after-school drama club. Believe me, I was in drama club, and a lot of our sets were better than the uninspired single set used in this production. For a show that costs an average of 90 bucks a ticket, I’d expect a lot more visual entertainment than a turntable and a literal game of “Musical” Chairs. Considering the fact that elaborate costumes were not needed (since it takes place in 2001), they could have used that extra money to have a few more sets. I might add that the scenes of passengers being on an airplane were using nothing more than two rows of chairs to simulate an airplane on stage. Pathetic. This is what your hard-earned cash is paying for?
-Too many dual-roles. The entire cast was comprised of maybe 20 people, each of whom played at least two roles. This was not only confusing, but, like the single set, cheapened the sense that you were seeing a high-budget production. The producers could have fixed both of these problems in one shot by using the stage’s turntable to rotate back and forth between two sets, and two groups of actors. The first “roles” that the group played were the townsfolk of Gander, and the second group of roles were the stranded people of the plane. Trying to keep track of what was going on was a pain in the ass, because the people kept switching back and forth to their other roles.
-The group-group-group monotony of the entire musical. Nearly every song was a group number that consisted of singing and dancing, making for a rather repetitive experience. There were hardly any solo roles, which was a pity for a group of very talented singers. Also, one of the worst things about group numbers is the fact that as an audience member, you don’t really know where to focus your attention. Too much is going on to really look at one person, and there were also too many voices to understand the lyrics. They could have sung the songs in any language other than my native English, and I probably would have understood about as much. The Irish-inspired music was a nice touch, but could have been better if there had been more solo pieces to counteract the amount of cast ensemble numbers. This was probably the reason that I found so few of the songs to be memorable, and the entire production rather repetitive.
-Emotion and character depth were missing. You don’t have to be a writer to notice these things, but since I’ve become accustomed to making sure that my main characters have at least as much depth as a quarry, I’ve probably become hyper-sensitive to things of this sort. The characters in Come From Away gave me no sense of emotion, and I could not care less what happened to them. Even the scene where one of them finds out that a loved one has died as a result of the 9/11 attacks failed to drag a tear from my eye, and I’m the type of sentimental freak who bawls my eyes out at Disney films. It wasn’t so much of a blink-back-tear-moment as it was an I-saw-that-coming-a-mile-away-and-could-not-care-less-moment. I’m sorry. Shoot me in my little black heart. At least it would make me feel something.
In conclusion, I think that this musical would likely do well as a movie, since there would be more opportunity for a variety of sets, costume changes, and no dual roles that only create confusion. A film would evoke a better sense of suspense and emotion that was not felt in the musical. If a movie is made, I will give it a look, I promise.
The hubster claims that the time he spent at the performance of Come From Away is time he will never get back, so he is vowing to drag my butt to a football game. For me, that is a fate worse than death, so you’ll probably be reading a future article entitled “Making a Pass on Football,” or “20 Yards Away from Boredom,” or “Don’t Touchdown Me.” Title pending.
If any of you have seen Come From Away, I’m dying to know what you thought of it! Let me know in the comments below!
For more exciting content, don’t forget to subscribe, and do check out my other funny rants on various topics!