The date is September 11, 2001. The place is a small town called Gander on the island of Newfoundland, which happens to have an airport with full-size runways which can handle large jets. Newfoundland, of course, is the easternmost island of Canada.
On that fateful day of terror and death, the air authorities of the United States and most of Canada effectively shut down air travel. However, Gander became a safe harbor in a world thrown into chaos, and 38 planes were ordered to land there, bringing 7,000 stranded passengers to a town of about that size. And they couldn’t leave for three or four days.
“Come from away” is a Newfoundland term for visitors from beyond the island. Bear in mind that on the first day no one knew for certain what was happening or even why the visitors had landed there. But they soon found out.
David Hein and Irene Sankoff remark: “Through this journey, we’ve learned it’s important to tell stories about welcoming strangers and stories of kindness. It’s important to honor what was lost and commemorate what was found.” And by concentrating on the people on an American Airlines flight coming from Paris, bound to Dallas, piloted by Beverley Bass, the nation’s first female airline captain, the audience can more easily identify with the passengers.
Or I could say it’s the musical staging (Kelly Devine) with its sleight of hand deceptively simple choreography. Or the superb double casting of all the actors, especially Becky Gulsvig, Nick Duckart, Andrew Samonsky, Julie Johnson, and Danielle K. Thomas (really everyone).
But the truth is—sometimes things just work in the theatre and all you can do is smile and be grateful. Years ago, nobody thought audiences would be interested in a show about anonymous dancers telling their stories, but “A Chorus Line” became a legend.
I remember on the evening of September 11, the London Symphony Orchestra assembled at Westminster Abbey and played “The Star-Spangled Banner:” a beautiful display of solidarity with America. I have never been so moved to hear the anthem. We all have our 9/11 remembrances.
“Come From Away,” still going strong on Broadway, is very special. I am now a confirmed fan. Try not to miss it.
For tickets and information, visit foxtheatre.org.