Come From Away celebrates its reopening at the Elgin Theatre
|Toronto Star 11 Feb 2019 at 15:21|
Many things were the same at the latest Toronto opening of Come From Away, including the raucous standing ovation at the end of the show and the cast being joined onstage by real Newfoundlanders and “plane people” who became characters in the musical.
The big difference was the venue. The Tony Award-winning Canadian musical set in Gander in the days after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks is now at the Elgin Theatre on Yonge St.
Real people portrayed in the musical Come From Away join the cast onstage at its official opening at the Elgin Theatre, including the flag-draped former mayor of Appleton, Derm Flynn. (COURTESY OF MIRVISH)
It had its final performance at the Royal Alexandra Theatre on King St. W. on Jan. 20 after nearly a year there.
The show’s performers say they feel the difference in the new space.
“The sound is very different, the resonance” because the theatre’s interior is shaped differently, said Barbara Fulton, who plays plane passenger Diane and other characters.
For James Kall, who plays passenger Nick and others, the fact that the Elgin’s balcony is not as high as the Royal Alex’s means the cast can “see the face of every person in the theatre” when they look out, something that happens a lot because there’s so much direct address in the show. This “took some getting used to,” said Kall.
While the stage is the same size, the audience has a wider view at the Elgin, which Lisa Horner welcomes: “I feel like we’ve expanded outwards a bit … the Royal Alex is a beautiful old girl but a bit tight, space-wise.” While she was a bit resistant to moving because she was comfortable at the Royal Alex, Horner says, “it’s always great to shake things up.”
If the performers feel the impact of sharing a more intimate space with the audience, the feeling is mutual. Sunday’s reopening matinee took place inside a noticeably cozier Elgin Theatre, which usually hits theatregoers right away with its open-concept red and gold opulence. A new back wall takes that moment of shock and awe away but effectively imitates the Royal Alexandra’s warmer charm once you’re on the other side.
The show’s physical move to the Elgin, 1.5 kilometres away, happened while the cast was in Newfoundland for a week of performances.
When asked what the process entailed, production manager Scot Whitham laughed wryly: “It’s very simple, you load it all out of one theatre and load it all back in.” In fact, it was a multi-week process involving 10 transport trucks and 50 to 70 personnel between electricians, carpenters, wardrobe experts, packers, and truck loaders and unloaders.
There was some advance work at the Elgin before the set and sound and lighting equipment could be moved: the producers reduced the seating capacity from 1,500 to a little over 1,000 to keep the show intimate, said Whitham. This necessitated the new back wall.
Come From Away is playing around the world — besides Toronto, London and New York there’s a production opening this summer in Melbourne, Australia, and a North American tour ongoing — and that comes down in part to the simplicity of director Christopher Ashley’s staging.
The story about friendly Newfoundlanders and the “plane people” stranded in Gander and other towns on Sept. 11 requires only chairs, tables, a few props and costume pieces, a wooden slatted backdrop and towering tree trunks on both sides of the stage, hiding the band.
Those band members (Bob Foster, Richard Evans, Tristan Avakian, Kim Ratcliffe, Anna Ludlow, Spencer Murray, Jonathan Maharaj, Sean Kilbride and Greg Hawco) are sadly tucked away a little more than usual at the Elgin — except when they’re freed for the rousing kitchen party scene — but the new stage otherwise hasn’t impacted the way the cast moves, particularly in the more dance-heavy numbers like the opening “Welcome to the Rock,” or the tight chair choreography of “28 Hours/Wherever We Are” and “Somewhere in the Middle of Nowhere.”
Tickets are on sale for the Elgin until June 30, but if the sales continue into the summer and fall the Elgin may be lost to the Toronto International Film Festival and the annual Ross Petty holiday panto.
The Canadian premiere of Dear Evan Hansen, the Tony Award-winning musical’s first international production, begins previews at the Royal Alexandra on March 5. Tickets for that musical are currently on sale until June 30.