Tuesday, September 21, when Come from afar reopened at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater on Broadway, before the performance began, before the first note was played, the whole audience jumped to their feet.
Every evening, a few minutes before the start of the musical, the group, who play a key role during the show, gather on stage. But that night was different. “The audience was so impatient and kind to the cast and the band and ready to celebrate the reopening,” shares Come from afar musical director Wendy Cavett who has been on the show since 2017.
Once the actors arrived on stage, the standing ovation continued. “It was thunderous. Huge, ”says Cavett. And what happened next? The actors turned to applaud the audience.
“Every time an actor delivered his first solo line, he received a huge round of applause,” Cavett added. “The whole openness was basically erased because when someone came up to say something, everyone was clapping and you missed the line. But the tone and the heart were truly magnificent.
Come from afar takes place in Gander, a town on the island of Newfoundland. After the September 11 attacks, 38 planes carrying 6,579 passengers and crew, 11 endangered dogs, nine cats and two monkeys were diverted to Gander International Airport. And suddenly, this small town with a giant heart, which had fewer than 10,000 inhabitants, started to move.
For five days, the population of Gander exploded. Community buildings have been transformed into shelters. The city called on its citizens for help with whatever they could do. And they more than delivered.
Come from afar tells how the lives of strangers have intertwined in the most unimaginable and extraordinary ways. Throughout Tony’s award-winning show, which features an original Celtic and folk-rock score that taps toes, beats the heart, and enriches the soul, we discover real people who have been through it all or composites of between them.
For Cavett, much of the joy of being in Come from afar plays an active role throughout. “The actors engage with the musicians during the performance as they tell the story. It’s really special, ”says Cavett. “There is a great appreciation for music, it’s an essential part of the fabric of the story. This music is the music of Newfoundland and Canada.
An accomplished musical director and conductor, Cavett’s credits on Broadway and New York include Hamilton, Mom Mia!, The scarlet chickweed, A year with the frog and the toad, The happiest guy and A tale of two cities. Cavett made history as the first female conductor of Hamilton. Before that she was with Mom Mia! for 12 years and has worked extensively in theaters across the country and around the world.
As a woman in a male-dominated industry, Cavett feels responsible to those who are under-represented in the field. “As we rise up, it’s my job as a woman to make sure I turn around and look for someone who has another nationality, another color, another origin and who makes room for them, ”she said. “On Broadway, we need to grow and help develop future talent pools that don’t always have the resources and access to training. We can help them integrate into the community and have more equity.
Jeryl Brunner: When did you start playing music?
Wendy Cavett: I come from a big blended family with ten children. Everyone in the family is an artist in one way or another. It was natural to be interested in music, television, dance or the visual arts. In my elementary school, they taught young students to play the recorder. I learned to play the piano on my own and learned to read music. At home I had an old copy of John Thompson teaches little fingers to play and whipped through this book. Then I quickly moved on to songbooks. Just as children read children’s books, so I sight read music books.
From 8 to 12 years old, I did children’s theater in a place that had been developed for children in the inner city of Hartford and West Hartford. I started to accompany on the piano for the theater. The music director bought me a Sesame Street songbook, then a Burt Bacharach. So I learned all these songs like “One Less Bell To Answer”. I didn’t know the skill I was learning was valuable.
Brunner: Did you continue to play?
Cavett: In high school, I danced too. But I was evolving as a musician just for my own sake. I started studying the piano and when I finished high school I decided to go to Carnegie Mellon University to study music. I thought, well, if I don’t like music, I’m just going to go to the theater, not realizing that they take on 14 people a year.
Brunner: What happened after you entered college?
Cavett: At Carnegie Mellon, I met a bunch of really wonderful artists. The Civic Light Opera, [also in Pittsburgh], is a great place for many musical directors and Broadway performers. Thanks to the connections I made at Civic Light Opera, people have taken me to regional theaters and international tours. Don Jones, a music director who worked there for several summers, was one of my mentors. He brought me in to do some shows there. He died in 1995.
In addition, when national tours passed through Pittsburgh, they hired local musicians. When A choir line When I arrived in Pittsburgh, I met Doug Besterman, who is now a well-known orchestrator. He asked me to replace him on A choir line. From there he asked me to take his place on the off-Broadway show, Against this, at the Public Theater.
Brunner: What can you share about the musical you’re working on? Great you, with a book, music and lyrics by Lourds Lane?
Cavett: Great you is a female superhero musical. It is the journey of a young woman who returns to her dreams when her superhero creations come to life. I am the music supervisor and co-arranger. Between TikTok, promo videos, and reads from the past 18 months, the team was so creative. We’re doing a reading at the Tuacahn Center for the Arts in a few weeks, and then we’ll be doing a production of the show in the spring of 2022. The plan is to bring it to New York after that. Stay tuned.