by Angela Tricarico
In the four years since Come From Away made its world premiere in La Jolla, California, this small musical with a big heart has captured hearts worldwide. However, before any audience got the chance to witness the story of Gander its original cast members were among the first to be taken by its story.
In the time since the premiere, many of the original company members from the La Jolla production are still in the show. Four years, five productions, and countless revisions later, these Broadway company members have grown into a family.
“It’s not just family. It’s like old family” says Joel Hatch, who originated the role of Claude and others in La Jolla and is still a member of the Broadway company. “We have history now.”
Caesar Samayoa, who originated the role of Kevin J./Ali and others in La Jolla, and like Hatch, is still a part of the Broadway company, likened the Come From Away experience to the college experience.
“College is four years and now we're longer than four years.” Samayoa said. “We've gone through weddings, babies, anniversaries, and every kind of major life milestone you could have. We've experienced so much outside of the show itself.”
What’s keeping both of them with the show over four years later?
There’s no one answer, an amalgamation of things, but for both Samayoa and Hatch, it started with a moment.
Hatch is always looking for something different in musicals: something that breaks from the traditional “boy-meets-girl” set-up. The documentary nature of Come From Away was enticing from the first time he read the script.
“I found myself going through such a gamut of emotions just reading it for the first time,” Hatch recalled. “Generally when I read a script for a musical, it’s not such an emotional rollercoaster. When you read lyrics without music or dialogue as if it’s prose, it just doesn’t read quite as interestingly. This certainly did.”
Hatch felt very strongly from the get-go that he had to be a part of this show.
Samayoa was also hooked from the moment he read the script, though at first the description he was given wasn’t exactly the most appealing.
“My agent called me and said he had an audition for me, and he actually said the exact wrong thing. ‘I have an audition for a 9/11 musical.’ I was like, absolutely not. I'm a New Yorker, I was here when everything happened. I lost friends in this tragedy. I was like, there's no way. There's no way I'm interested in doing anything like that. He was like, ‘Okay!’ And then I get a call a couple of hours later which is a little bit unusual. ‘Just read the script.’ he said. ‘ I don't think I'm describing this correctly.’ I remember I was sitting down on my couch and I read it cover to cover. I was just blown away by this story that I had never heard.”
In the four years since, both recall major changes being made at every stop between major character work following La Jolla, to a brand new song for Q. Smith’s Hannah added during a Broadway preview on the day they recorded the Original Broadway Cast Recording. With changes happening across the board, the company got an opportunity to be in a room where everyone had a voice alongside the creatives.
“We started with a great book,” Hatch says. “But then we started honing in on these characters and making them clearer and clearer and sharper. Each city we went to there would be a character that had lots of changes.”
Samayoa saw major changes happen with both of his main roles.
“Initially, Kevin J. had maybe three or four lines, and Ali had like two lines in the whole script,” Samayoa says. “It was really about ensemble work.”
Meeting and working with the sources from Gander was a huge part of developing the show, but it wasn’t until after La Jolla that the production team could get in touch with Kevin J. Samayoa remembers when it finally happened.
“This email pops up and it says "Hi, my name's Kevin, and I think you play me in a musical." I opened it up and it was this huge email telling me his whole story of being in Gander. I was able to introduce him to our team,” he says.
Hatch says that the real Kevin J. assisting the creative team was an opportunity to bring out the comedic elements of the character, because “he’s a funny guy.”
Since opening on Broadway, the only changes the cast sees are tweaks made during brush-up rehearsals as new companies rehearse to open worldwide. Still, Samayoa says that there are new things to learn every night due to the intense focus to be present that the show requires.
That focus is partly what is keeping Samayoa with the show still, but the reactions of others are also a large part of it.
“It feels like you're telling this story for the first time. To hear that audience reaction at the end - it's still surprising. It's still kind of shocking to hear an entire auditorium, that kind of reaction where everybody jumps up at the same time and screams,” Samayoa says.
As for Hatch, the thing that initially drew him into the show is the same thing keeping him with it.
“Every once in a while you get a story that’s so unique, so interesting, that you’re like, ‘Oh boy, I still love it.’ I haven’t found anything else that’s grabbing me yet, that’s pulling me away and saying ‘Won’t this be better?’ Until I find that, I’m going to stay with the story I really love to tell as opposed to jumping to a story I might not love as much.”