The Olivier Awards, named after Sir Lawrence Olivier, the iconic actor, are the prestigious British awards for theatre. This year, Kelly Devine picked up the award for Best Theatre Choreographer in a New Musical for Come from Away. Devine is known for her work on new musicals, and Devine was nominated but narrowly missed out on a Tony Award for choreography for Come from Away in 2017.
Of the Olivier, Devine says, “It felt surreal in the moment, but the greatest part was that the whole team was together in London, so we all got to celebrate together.”
Australian audiences are soon to be lucky enough to see this production of Come from Away, when it opens in Australia at the Comedy Theatre this July. “It takes all of 10 seconds to be in its generous embrace,” said theatre critic for The Times UK, Dominic Maxwell. “You stay there for the next 100 minutes: laughing, tapping your foot, wiping away tears, feeling good about humanity, without ever feeling you’re just being sold gloopy musical theatre good cheer.”
Come from Away follows the story of an airflight grounded in a small community in Newfoundland, in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. Grim material for a musical perhaps, although some of the most interesting musicals have political thematics — Urinetown, for example, and Australian musical Ladies in Black. Come from Away examines the relationships forged in the unusual circumstances of being temporarily stranded.
“I saw an early reading of Come from Away,” recalls Devine, “and met the authors David Hein and Irene Sankoff. I thought the show was very special. Then, just my luck about a year later, Christopher Ashley, whom I knew prior from Memphis and as the artistic director of the La Jolla Playhouse, called me out of the blue and asked If I wanted to work on this new musical, Come from Away. That was a resounding yes!”
She adds, “My role in this piece was different than any other musical I have worked on. The concept of 12 actors and 12 chairs was an exciting challenge. I was trying to create locations, help actors with their physicality for the multiple roles they play and find the movement throughout. Paying close attention of where the focus needs to be was also a big part of the storytelling. I looked at a lot of images of people waiting — in line, on a bus, at the airport. I wanted to capture the physicality of fatigue and frustration. Also, what naturalistic things do people do in those moments and turn that into choreography. I also researched Celtic dance as well to capture the vibe of our score when we are in a scene where are characters would want to dance as if they were at a kitchen party which is thing Gander!”
We asked Devine if this award would change things for her. “Yes!” she jokes. “I only travel with a huge entourage now and a long list of demands! I’m kidding! I don’t really think about it like that. This award has given me a memory that I will cherish for the rest of my life, and this show is so special to me and to the entire team. What an incredible way to celebrate something you love, and what an honour.”
Come From Away will open in Australia at the Comedy Theatre in July. For more information, visit comefromaway.com.au.
By Tamara Searle of Dance Informa.