For seven years now, give or take a pandemic, Joel Hatch, Caesar Samayoa, and Q. Smith have considered themselves the luckiest people in the world. Since 2015, they've lit up the stage in Come From Away, journeying with the show from the La Jolla Playhouse to Broadway (with stops at several regional theaters in between). Hatch is the gregarious Mayor Claude (and the first voice you hear in the show); Smith is the anxious mother Hannah; and Samayoa doubles as Kevin J. and Ali, but they all have multiple roles.
With Come From Away approaching its fifth anniversary at the Schoenfeld Theatre on March 12, and with Hatch preparing to play his last show a week later, we thought it was time to catch up with these three stalwarts of the production so they could share their memories of this unexpected — but extremely joyful — journey.
This conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.
What was your reaction when you read the script of Come From Away for the very first time during the audition process?
Q. Smith: I didn't read the whole script until the first day of rehearsal. I had auditioned for three different parts: Beulah, Hannah, and I forget the third person. They weren't sure what they were doing to do with casting. So we read through it and I was like, "This is what I auditioned for?" I was a mess. it was really something special.
Caesar Samayoa: I had a different experience. My agent said the exact wrong thing to me. He said, "You're auditioning for a 9/11 musical," and I said, "Absolutely not." Then he called me back and asked me to read the script, and by the time I got to the last page, I remember thinking, "I have to be in this show."
Joel Hatch: To tell you the truth, I hate reading scripts for musicals. They don't read well. You don't have the music; you're just looking at lyrics. But this script was different. It kept surprising me. And to go from crying to laughter to crying to laughter while reading a script for the first time is a rarity in my career. I had to do the show. I just had to.
Was there a point in the early days when you realized that this show was going to have a life, and not be just a flash in the pan?
Q.: Our first audience in La Jolla.
Caesar: It felt like a gut punch, the energy that came back from that audience. I've never felt anything like that in the theater. We had no idea how it was gonna come across or how much joy and laughter there was in the show. It was astonishing.
Q.: And it's been the same for seven years.
Joel: I had dinner last week with friends of ours who had seen the show in La Jolla. This guy said "I immediately tried to get a hold of the producers to see if I could invest in it." But he saw it after it opened, and all of the investment spots had been filled by then. During previews in La Jolla, they were ready.
Q.: I've heard that a couple of times from investors. They wish they had done it earlier, or had never had an experience like that, where they asked the producers if they could invest and the producers turned them down.
The real people who you're playing are very enthusiastic about the show, but I'm sure they've inevitably had friendly critiques of your performances. Tell me about them.
Joel: Claude is a little upset that I don't have a full head of hair, because he has a lovely head of white hair, and he has let the world know I don't have a full head of hair. But I'm leaving on March 20 and with my replacement coming in, he's going to get a fabulous head of hair.
Q.: Hannah is the loveliest. The last time I heard from her was last Valentine's Day. She called just to say that she loved me. She's just a sweet lady, and it's nothing but praise and love. She's a little Irish woman. We look nothing alike but we're the same at the core.
Caesar: We all look so different from our people, but the core is there. Kevin has become a great friend. He comes to the show and we'll go to Marie's Crisis and sing showtunes.
Joel: I give Claude a hard time about the hair, but the first thing he said to me, before he even saw the show, was "I know it's got to be an uncomfortable feeling to portray me in front of an audience when I'm sitting there. But I'm not here about me, I'm here about my town and that they're represented as the good people that they are." And he got it. He understood. He took that pressure off immediately. But that's the kind of guy he is.
Caesar: We also got to experience our people experience the show for the first time. Those theaters we were in out of town were tiny. We saw Bev Bass realizing her entire story is on that stage. Hannah was in the second row. You couldn't help but watch them. It was amazing.
What did you think of the show when you inevitably watched the filmed version that premiered last year?
Caesar: You never know how something is going to look onscreen, but this is a beautiful representation of our show, and I was so proud of my castmates.
Joel: My favorite thing in the show is Q. She killed me. Just killed me.
Q.: I watched it like this [covers eyes]. I do want to see it in a space that's quiet and I can just focus, because my son was there, in his highchair, and he kept saying, "Mama!" My husband recorded him seeing his mama onscreen. I wasn't able to focus. But I will see it again.
Joel, I want to give you the last word, since you're the Mayor and you're leaving soon. What will you miss most after seven years?
Joel: These people. Without a doubt. [Starts to cry] Oh, boy. I'm a mess already. These last few weeks are gonna be hard.