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This article was published 18/1/2018 (733 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
From West Side Story to Oklahoma, all the great Broadway musicals inevitably get made into movies.
And so too will Come From Away, currently playing both on Broadway and at the Manitoba Theatre Centre (the latter in advance of an open-ended booking in Toronto commencing Feb. 13 at the Royal Alexandra Theatre).
Unlike coy stage-to-screen holdouts such as Wicked, a film version of the rollicking, Newfoundland-set musical by David Hein and Irene Sankoff may come sooner than later. Indeed, it may go to camera as early as next year.
Sankoff says of the first draft of the screenplay: "We turned it in and we’re waiting for notes."
The man they delivered the screenplay to is none other than Christopher Ashley, who won a Tony for the direction of the Broadway iteration of Come From Away and also directed the RMTC version with an all-Canadian cast.
"It’s beautiful, beautiful work," says Ashley, whose previous film-directing credits include the 1995 comedy Jeffrey, based on the stage play by Paul Rudnick starring Steven Weber and Patrick Stewart. "It’s not an easy screenplay to write."
Indeed, as it is, the play whirls like a dervish through dozens of characters portrayed by 12 onstage actors who alter personalities with quicksilver shifts of voice, posture and wardrobe as they portray both townies and visitors who landed in Gander when American airspace was closed in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
"What they’ve written for the stage is sort of theatrical, and how do you translate that to the big screen?" Ashley says. "It’s tricky and exciting, and the plan is very much to try to shoot it in Newfoundland."
For their part, Canadian playwrights Sankoff and Hein were pleasantly surprised Ashley had film experience.
"Ironically, the first year we were dating, Jeffrey was one of our date films," Sankoff says. "We didn’t realize he had directed it. He was talking about it at some point, and I said, ‘Oh, we love that movie.’ And he said, ‘Thank you.’ And I’m like ... ‘Oh!"’
"He was the best possible choice (to direct the film)," Hein says. "We’d already gone on this journey with him and he’s brilliant.
"He knows the story that we’re trying to tell," Hein says, adding that Ashley demonstrated his commitment to the project early on. "As an American director, his first instinct was: I have to go to Gander," Hein recalls.
"He came with us to Gander for a week and he got screeched in, and we listened to a ton of Newfoundland music," Hein says. "We had the unique experience of getting to introduce your director to the people who inspired the characters of the show, and it was so clear from the get-go his commitment to telling the truth and getting it right for those people was his highest priority."
Where the theatrical version of Come From Away just employs 12 actors, the cast of the movie could encompass five times that number of actors with speaking/singing parts, an exciting and daunting prospect, Sankoff says.
"I’m so glad that we’re not in charge of wrangling that, that’s all I have to say," she says.
"Irene’s got a screenwriting degree, and I studied screenwriting too," Hein says, adding that experience reflects in the stage play, which changes settings and characters with the fluidity of a Robert Altman movie.
"There’s something about the way we originally wrote the show, very quick in-and-out, and we were always imagining what it would have looked like as a film at the time," he says. "What does 38 planes landing at a small airport look like? Or 7,000 people walking through a town of 9,000? So this is our chance to show that."
Come From Away continues its run at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre until Feb. 3. All performances are sold out.
In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.