Come From Away’s magic shows no signs of abating

In Come From Away, a local reporter is on her first day on the job when the planes land.


come from afar

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When: August 16-28

Where: Queen Elizabeth Theatre, 630 Hamilton St., Vancouver


What happens to a person’s brain after performing the same work almost 900 times?

“The good news is if you call me 10 years from now and say, ‘Hey, you have to do Come From Away,’ I think I could do it,” said cast member Steffi DiDomenicantonio.

“But I have to tell you, it doesn’t feel like I’ve done the show 900 times. The show is such a fast train that once you get on you don’t get off until it ends. It keeps me alert every night. I never go on autopilot.”

One of, if not the, most acclaimed musicals of the last decade, Come From Away follows the trials, tribulations and triumphs of 7,000 stranded airline passengers and the citizens of Gander, NL who come to their aid.

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“I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t walk away feeling like they just took a warm bath,” DiDomenicantonio said. “Don’t get me wrong, the show tackles some really dark stuff. But it is so exquisitely written that it takes you on the roller coaster ride that was probably the five days after 9/11. It’s a hundred-minute show and it contains everything.”

After opening on Broadway in 2017, Come From Away received 17 Tony Award nominations. It is scheduled to close on October 2 after 1,670 performances, making it the longest-running Canadian musical after The Drowsy Chaperone and putting it on the list of shows on the Great White Way with over 1,000 performances.

“It’s crazy how the impact is as big as it was in Canada,” said DiDomenicantonio, who performed the show in Toronto and several US cities. “It’s a Canadian story written by Canadians. People stand up so fast at the end of the show. I have never been part of a program that has had this kind of feedback loop. At the end of the show every night, it feels like a rock concert.”

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Most of the show arrives the same in the US as it does here, although some of the jokes are not translated.

“The mayor has a line where he says, ‘I start my day at Tim Hortons,’ which, in Toronto, always gets one of the biggest laughs,” he said. “There’s also a fun line from Shoppers Drug Mart. In the US, no one knows what Shoppers is, but again, in Canada, it stops the show. It’s like a wall of sound of screaming and clapping. That doesn’t change.”

Toronto-based producer Michael Rubinoff and creators Irene Sankoff and David Hein began work on the play in 2012. DiDomenicantonio was one of the first to see the nascent production at Sheridan College.

“I remember running into David and Irene after the show and being flabbergasted, and this was just a staged, concert-style reading. He blew my mind. Then I saw the Toronto tryouts at the Royal Alexandra Theater in 2016 and it hit me just as hard or harder than the first time. I’m not kidding when I say I walked away thinking, ‘I have to be a better person.’ I want to carry the spirit of this show.’”

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DiDomenicantonio, a self-described “big musical theater nerd,” grew up seeing any examples of the art form she could find and listening to the cast’s albums. In 2006, she became a Top 5 finalist on Season 4 of Canadian Idol, where she was forced out of her comfort zone and forced to sing pop music.

“I’ve never sung a pop song before in my entire life,” he said. “It was a great learning experience. But I was so thankful. She kind of set me up for the rest of my life.”

In Come From Away, DiDomenicantonio plays Janice, a combination TV reporter and local newspaper reporter who is on her first day on the job when the planes land. Janice and the other characters arose from interviews that creators Sankoff and Hein conducted with the people of Gander in 2011.

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“It’s so overwhelming when you think this actually happened, even the silliest things on the show,” said DiDomenicantonio, who also co-hosts the online talk show Check In From Away. “There was a time when they didn’t have anyone to clean the bathrooms at Gander Academy and these cardiologists on their way to a conference pitched in. You can’t make these things up.”

Kristen Peace plays Bonnie, the worker at the Gander SPCA. “She is quite worried about the animals that have been left on the plane and she is fighting to get them taken care of properly,” the Toronto actor said.

Like DiDomenicantonio, Peace has hosted the show hundreds of times. Favorite parts of her are constantly changing, she says. “Sometimes it’s something I’m doing, like a set of lines or an interaction. That will change to, I love sitting and watching Bob give his speech, or I love the way the lighting changes at a certain point.” Bob is one of the passengers on his way to New York when his plane is forced to land.

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Peace’s enthusiasm for the show is just as infectious as her co-star’s. “She’s an optimist but she’s also a roller coaster. We have some very sad moments. And she moves so fast that it takes her a second to understand what you feel. It’s so wonderfully written that way. And there is no in-between. You talk to people after the show and they say, ‘I’m exhausted.’ Of course you are. You’re supposed to be. It’s a tricky subject to have extreme positivity in a time of utter terror and disaster. It was a scary moment. And that people say: ‘We are going to welcome you and lodge you, we are going to clothe you and feed you’. And beyond that, having an acknowledgment of, ‘Oh my God, they must be so stressed. What can we do to distract them and make them happy?’”

Even after hundreds of performances, DiDomenicantonio says he can’t help but give “110 percent” every night.

“Audience reactions are always so lively and loud, the audience is so present with us that I have never been able to do it without being 100 percent present. And I remind myself every night that someone is seeing it for the first time, and I remember my first time and what a crazy experience it was. It reminds us of the really good things in life. It’s such a strong message right now.”

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