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17, Mar 2017
cast photo by Matthew Murphy

Come From Away, in the days after 9/11

by Corey Cohen
for The Cultural Critic

Come From Away. Book, music & lyrics by Irene Sankoff & David Hein. Schoenfeld Theatre, New York City, March 2017.
 

A hit musical has opened on Broadway and it’s about…..9/11? Really? Seems like an odd topic for song and dance.

Actually, Come From Away is more of a 9/12 musical, telling us what happened in the days following the terrorist attacks. It focuses on the uplifting true story of a community called Gander, Newfoundland. This tiny town doubled in population when it welcomed thousands of stranded passengers after air travel was shut down on September 11, 2001, and hundreds of planes were ordered to land at Gander.

The production tells the previously-overlooked story of people coming together in the worst circumstances imaginable. The 7000 travelers were greeted warmly by the residents, who would come up to strangers and say “Here’s a key to my house. I put out fresh towels and there’s food in the refrigerator for you.”

One of the triumphs of Come From Away is how it so incredibly captures the culture of Newfoundland. It’s a Canadian/Irish blend that is unlike anything we’ve seen in theater, and everyone involved clearly went above and beyond to accurately reflect the area. The score and book, written by the married couple Irene Sankoff & David Hein (making their Broadway debut), sounds authentic. That’s largely in part to the thousands of hours of interviews they conducted with residents and with the stranded travelers. The opening number, “Welcome to the Rock”, introduces us to this unfamiliar culture we quickly feel a part of, thanks to Sankoff & Hein.

The ensemble cast is another highlight. This refreshing mix of actors of all ages, races and sizes comes together to make us feel like we’ve been dropped right into Gander. They also switch in and out of other characters (the plane people, as they were called) to show us a Texan pilot, a mother of a New York fireman, a gay couple from Los Angeles, an Egyptian and a rabbi. By slipping in and out of accents (and occasionally a jacket or hat), these twelve performers bring us many fascinating stories.

What makes Come From Away work on Broadway is that it displays the exceptional generosity of humanity that took place in Newfoundland. This brings to Broadway a story of hope. Not everything has a perfect ending (especially when dealing with one of the worst days in history), but the kindness and selflessness displayed by the remarkable people of Gander gives us faith that, especially in dark times, we have to help each other, and hope can be found.

 
 
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