Come From Away is a musical with book, music and lyrics by Irene Sankoff and David Hein. It is set in the week following the September 11 attacks and tells the true story of what transpired when 38 planes were ordered to land unexpectedly in the small town of Gander, Newfoundland and Labrador, as part of Operation Yellow Ribbon. The characters in the musical are based on (and in most cases share the names of) real Gander residents as well as some of the 7,000 stranded travelers they housed and fed.
The musical has been received by audiences and critics as a cathartic reminder of the capacity for human kindness in even the darkest of times and the triumph of humanity over hate.
After being workshopped in 2012 and first produced at Sheridan College in Oakville, Ontario in 2013, it went on to have record-breaking runs at the La Jolla Playhouse and the Seattle Repertory Theatre in 2015, and at the Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C., and the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto in 2016. It opened on Broadway at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre on March 12, 2017, and became a critical and box office success, routinely playing to standing-room-only audiences even during previews.
At the 71st Tony Awards, it was nominated for seven awards including Best Musical, Best Score, Best Book of a Musical and Best Featured Actress in a Musical for Jenn Colella, ultimately winning one award for Best Direction of a Musical.
A second Canadian production is scheduled to begin performances at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto on February 13, 2018.
History and productions
The idea for the show was first conceived by Michael Rubinoff, a Toronto lawyer, theatre producer, and Associate Dean of Visual and Performing Arts at Sheridan College in Oakville. After approaching various writing teams about the project, Rubinoff attracted Irene Sankoff and David Hein, whose work he knew from their 2009 musical, My Mother's Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding, which was a hit at the Toronto Fringe Festival and later picked up by Mirvish Productions.
In 2011, Sankoff and Hein visited Gander on the tenth anniversary of the attacks to interview locals and returning passengers. The couple translated some stories directly to the musical while others were merged for story purposes. Rubinoff used their initial script to produce a 45-minute workshop version for the Canadian Music Theatre Project, part of the Sheridan College Music Theatre Performance Program, in 2012. The workshop was sufficiently successful that Rubinoff invited Sankoff and Hein to finish writing it for a full production at Sheridan in 2013, as part of the college's regular theatrical season. The full production, directed by Brian Hill, was an artistic success, but Rubinoff was unable to attract a Canadian producer for further development.
In the meantime, Goodspeed Musicals of East Haddam, Connecticut, included the show in its workshop program. The National Alliance for Musical Theatre in New York selected it as a showcase presentation in fall 2013, where a performance, also directed by Brian Hill, led to the show being optioned by Junkyard Dog Productions, the production company behind Memphis and First Date.
The professional production was a collaboration by the La Jolla Playhouse and Seattle Repertory Theatre in 2015. The play had extended runs in each location. The musical opened at the La Jolla Playhouse in June 2015, directed by Christopher Ashley and featuring Joel Hatch as the Mayor of Gander, Jenn Colella as Beverley, a pilot, and Chad Kimball as Kevin. In Seattle, it broke all box office records (including highest grossing show and largest single ticket sales day) at Seattle Repertory Theatre.
Following its runs in San Diego and Seattle, the show played out-of-town engagements at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C. from September 2, 2016 to October 9, 2016 and then at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto, Ontario, from November 15, 2016 to January 8, 2017. The entire run of the Toronto production sold out during its second week of performances. The show's ticket sales set a record for the then 109-year-old Royal Alex Theatre, selling $1.7 million in tickets in a single week. The show could not be extended due to its Broadway commitment but, as a result of the strong demand, Mirvish Productions announced on December 2, 2016, that it was adding an additional four box seats and 12 standing-room locations for the duration of the show. An additional show was also added on the evening of December 18, 2016.
The musical opened in previews on Broadway on February 18, 2017 and officially opened on March 12, 2017 at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre. The show has been playing to standing-room-only audiences. Direction is by Christopher Ashley, choreography by Kelly Devine, scenic design by Beowulf Boritt, costume design by Toni-Leslie James, lighting design by Howell Binkley, sound design by Gareth Owen, and music direction by Ian Eisendrath. The performance of March 15, 2017 on Broadway was attended by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (who addressed the audience before the show), other current and former Canadian federal politicians and provincial politicians from Newfoundland and Labrador, US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, and Ivanka Trump.
The show is scheduled to return to Toronto in February 2018, with a production at the Royal Alexandra Theatre featuring a Toronto company. It is part of Mirvish Productions' 2017/2018 theatre season.
Characters and casts
On the morning of September 11, 2001, the townsfolk of Gander (including Claude the mayor, Oz the police constable, Beulah the teacher, Bonnie the SPCA worker and others) describe life in Newfoundland and how they learn of the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, DC ("Welcome to the Rock").
The attacks result in US airspace being closed, forcing 38 international aircraft to be diverted and land unexpectedly at the Gander airport, doubling the population of the small Newfoundland town, which is unequipped for the influx of stranded travelers ("38 Planes"). The Gander townspeople spring to action and prepare to house, feed, clothe and comfort the nearly 7,000 passengers (along with 19 animals in cargo) ("Blankets and Bedding"). Meanwhile, the pilots, flight attendants and passengers are initially not permitted to leave the planes, forcing them to deal with confusing and conflicting information about what has happened and why they were suddenly grounded ("28 Hours / Wherever We Are").
Once allowed off the planes and transferred to various emergency shelters in and around Gander ("Darkness and Trees"), the passengers and crew watch replays of the attacks on the news and learn the true reason why they were grounded ("Lead Us Out of the Night"). The frightened and lonely passengers desperately try to contact their families and pray for their loved ones, while the townsfolk work through the night to help them in any and every way they can ("Phoning Home / Costume Party). Two of the characters, Beulah and Hannah, bond over the fact that both of their sons are firefighters, but Hannah's son is missing ("I Am Here"). Hannah asks Beulah to take her to a Catholic church, and a number of characters make their way to other houses of worship around town ("Prayer").
To alleviate rising fear and mounting tensions ("On The Edge"), the passengers are invited to be initiated as honorary Newfoundlanders at the local bar ("Heave Away / Screech In"). The "islanders" in Gander and the surrounding towns open up their homes to the "plane people", regardless of their guests' race, nationality or sexual orientation. The travelers are initially taken aback by their hosts' uncommon hospitality, but they slowly let their guards down and begin to bond with the quirky townsfolk.
The gravity of the attacks nevertheless continues to set in as US airspace is eventually reopened. One trailblazing pilot, Beverley Bass, comments on how her once optimistic view of the world has suddenly changed ("Me and the Sky"). While one pair of passengers starts to develop a romance despite the terrible thing that brought them together ("Stop the World"), another pair sees their long-term relationship fall apart under the stress of the event.
As the passengers and crew fly away to their homes, they joyously exchange stories of the immense kindness and generosity that was shown to them by the Newfoundland strangers in their time of need ("Somewhere in the Middle of Nowhere"), but not before a Muslim traveler, faced with increasing prejudice from his fellow passengers, undergoes a humiliating strip search prior to boarding. The passengers who return to New York City are faced with the horror of the attacks' aftermath, including a mother who learns that her firefighter son lost his life during the rescue efforts. The townsfolk in Gander return to normal life, but comment on how empty their town now seems and how different the world now feels ("Something's Missing").
Ten years later, the crew and passengers (the "come from aways") of the once stranded planes reunite in Gander, this time by choice, to celebrate the lifelong friendships and strong connections they formed in spite of the terrorist attacks ("Finale"). As Claude the mayor professes, "Tonight we honor what was lost, but we also commemorate what we found."
"Welcome to the Rock" – Claude, Company
"38 Planes" – Company
"Blankets and Bedding" – Company
"28 Hours / Wherever We Are" – Company
"Darkness and Trees" – Company
"On the Bus" – Company
"Darkness and Trees – Reprise" – Company
"Lead Us out of the Night" – Company
"Phoning Home" – Company
"Costume Party" – Diane, Kevin 1, Beverley, Hannah, Kevin 2, Nick, Bob
"I Am Here" – Hannah
"Prayer" – Company
"On the Edge" – Company
"In the Bar/Heave Away" – Company
"Screech In" – Claude, Company
"Me and the Sky" – Beverley, Company
"The Dover Fault" – Nick, Diane
"Stop the World" – Nick, Diane, Company
"38 Planes – Reprise/Somewhere in the Middle of Nowhere" – Beverley, Company
"Something's Missing" – Company
"10 Years Later" – Company
"Finale" – Claude, Company
"Screech Out" – Band
The music contains "rock, folk and Gaelic-sounding strains, performed by an onstage band."
Jay Irwin with Broadway World called the production "emotionally transcendent" and "the best musical I've seen all year and possibly ever."
David Gerson with DC Metro Theatre Arts called the show "one of the most refreshing pieces of art that I have seen in years. The folk and country influenced pop score is tuneful and the cast sings the hell out of it." Peter Marks, in his review in The Washington Post, noted that the musical "stirs powerful memories of 9/11 [...] if the book's mechanics unfold with too much sugar, the score has an infectious, gritty vitality: Especially good is a number set in a Gander pub, choreographed by Kelly Devine, during which a risibly nutty local initiation rite is performed, involving the embrace of a recently caught codfish."
Kelly Nestruck of The Globe and Mail wrote that "the heartwarming musical lives up to the hype" and that "the accessible story, strong emotional core and gorgeous songwriting should not distract from how original and smart this gem of a musical is." Robert Cushman of the National Post called the production "outstanding." Liz Braun of the Toronto Sun gave the show a perfect 5-star review, writing "Blame Canada: a grim day in American history has been transformed into a joyous and emotional musical about the indomitable human spirit." Alan Henry of Broadway World said "You'll laugh, you'll cry, and you'll be a better person when you leave the theatre. Don't miss 'Come From Away'."
Ben Brantley, chief theatre critic for The New York Times, wrote "Try, if you must, to resist the gale of good will that blows out of 'Come From Away,' the big bearhug of a musical that opened on Sunday night at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater. But even the most stalwart cynics may have trouble staying dry-eyed during this portrait of heroic hospitality under extraordinary pressure." He awarded the show the Critics' Pick designation, given to productions the critic believes have particular merit. Joe Dziemianowicz of the New York Daily News called the show "big-hearted and crowd-pleasing" and "a singing reminder that when things are at their worst, people can be at their best." Joe Westerfield with Newsweek wrote that "'Come From Away' accomplishes what all the best musicals do: It takes you to a place where you didn't know you wanted to go, and makes you not want to leave." Frank Scheck of The Hollywood Reporter called the musical "heartwarming and thoroughly entertaining [...] especially in these politically fractious times." Johnny Oleksinski with the New York Post wrote that "Every New Yorker must see this show", referring to the musical as "Broadway's biggest and best surprise of the season." Peter Marks of The Washington Post called the show "an effervescent musical" and "an antidote for what ails the American soul." Michael Dale of Broadway World called the show an "inspiring, funny and kick-ass beautiful new musical" and went on to say that "as long as 'Come From Away' is playing on Broadway, I will recommend it to everyone. Everyone." Steven Suskin, drama critic for The Huffington Post, wrote that "'Come From Away' is altogether different and altogether gripping, [...] brave and new and unusual and overwhelmingly heart-tugging." Robert Kahn with NBC called the piece "a dignified, often funny new musical" which "find[s] a spiritual angle to a horrific story, depicting the goodness in humanity while still allowing us room for the feelings of loneliness and fear that will always be connected to that time." Jennifer Vanasco with WNYC called the show "a love letter -- to Newfoundland, to New York, to what people can do if they set aside fear and hate. Don't miss it."
Awards and honors
Original Washington, D.C. production (2016)
Original Broadway production (2017)
Come from Away at the Internet Broadway Database
Come From Away at PlaybillVault.com