‘Come From Away’ Lands in L.A.

November 21, 2018
Photo courtesy of Centre Theater Group

When United States airspace was closed after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, 38 planes were ordered to land in Gander, Newfoundland, increasing its population of 10,000 by 7,000 overnight. The story of how the town’s residents opened their homes and hearts to strangers from all over the world is the subject of the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical “Come From Away,” which opens Nov. 28 at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles.

Guitarist Adam Stoler was with the show on Broadway and segued to the touring company in October. He’s part of the band of onstage musicians who perform the music and lyrics by Irene Sankoff and David Hein. 

“Not only are we onstage for the entire show, we’re in costume and we get to interact with the cast,” he told the Journal. “I love it because I didn’t get into this business to sit in a pit. I wanted to be part of the action.”

Stoler wasn’t familiar with the story before he came on board, but he loves its message. “It’s about the Ganderites who took these people in and housed them and fed them. It’s about the relationships that were forged between the Ganderites and the passengers. It’s about treating people with love and respect and helping each other,” he said. “There are little things that we all can do every day to be kind to each other. Little things can make a big impact.”

The characters are based on real people, many of whom have seen the show multiple times. One, an American Airlines pilot, is planning to bring a large group to see it in L.A., Stoler said. “Two of the characters, passengers from different planes, met and ended up getting married.”

For Stoler, who was living in Manhattan during 9/11, the show “brought back memories of my own experience. I woke up that morning to a phone call from my brother saying, ‘I’m still alive.’ He was getting off a bus in front of the World Trade Center as the first plane hit and narrowly escaped with his life. So the show is very cathartic for me. There are parts that are very difficult, but in general, it’s a very uplifting show. You should feel good when you leave the theater.”

Stoler grew up in a musical family. His father played guitar, bass and piano and introduced him to music. “I had my first guitar at 5 and by 10 I was taking lessons,” he said. “I knew instantly that it was what I wanted to do.”

After earning undergraduate and graduate degrees in jazz performance and composition from New York University, where jazz and world music artist Richard Bona became his mentor, Stoler toured the world with Bona. “It was an extremely formative experience,” he said. “It also opened a lot of doors for me.”

His itinerary included Israel, where he’d visited twice before. “I got to perform in Tel Aviv at Philharmonic Hall. It was a wonderful experience. I cannot wait to go back. My wife hasn’t been there and wants to go.”

Of German and Russian Jewish heritage, Stoler grew up in a “Conservative, somewhat observant kosher home. I had a bar mitzvah and can still read Hebrew, but can’t understand it,” he said. “I’m less observant these days but [Judaism] is still a significant part of my identity. I like to think it makes me more open to different types of music. I’ve always been interested in world music, music from the Middle East, and music from our prayers are influenced by that. My heritage has broadened my perspective.”

In “Come From Away,” “a lot of the music has a traditional Irish vibe to it because that’s what a lot of the culture is in Gander,” Stoler said, calling it a “very challenging score.” He plays several differently tuned acoustic and electric guitars during the show. “There’s a lot of back and forth and fast changes between scenes.”

He has a one-year contract, “but they’re already booking this production into a third year. I’m going to take it one year at a time and see how it goes,” Stoler said. So far, he’s enjoying life on the road. “It’s a luxury situation compared to what I’ve had touring with solo artists and bands. We’re in L.A. for six weeks. It’s really nice. You feel like you’re living in the city and really get to see the place. Our spouses are able to come out for portions of the tour. My wife came to Seattle and will come to L.A.”

Stoler loves the city and is looking forward to hitting Venice Beach, trying restaurants in different neighborhoods and “exploring outside of L.A., hiking and doing other outdoorsy stuff.”

Although Broadway “wasn’t something that I was particularly going after, it fell in my lap in a wonderful way,” Stoler said. But he continues to compose and record his own material with the mobile recording equipment he takes with him on the road. 

“Each experience brings new challenges and I enjoy bouncing back and forth to keep things interesting. I see myself continuing to do Broadway, my own music and music for other artists,” he said. “I’ll probably do some of that while I’m in L.A. After the show is over, I’ll be out the door and in Hollywood.”

“Come From Away” runs Nov. 28-Jan. 6 at the Ahmanson Theatre.

Read more from the 2018 Holiday Arts & Entertainment Edition here.

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