It has been seven years already since the first premiere of the hit Broadway musical Come From Away, and it continues to inspire and warm the hearts of many people. Based on a true story of the stranded “plane people” and residents of a small community in Newfoundland during the grim day of September 2001, this musical tells a moving tale of kindness and compassion amidst an unimaginable tragedy. Prepare your napkins when watching this tear-jerker of a musical coming to the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Vancouver this summer.
“Beautifully gives people reason to come to the theater and come together.” – Chicago Tribune
“Takes you to a place you will never want to leave.” – Newsweek
“Lively folk-infused musical is about the post-9/11 world, but even more about human kindness.” – The San Diego Union-Tribune
Come From Away portrays the events that took place in Gander, Newfoundland, during and after September 11, 2001. Because of the attacks on the twin towers and Pentagon, airspace going in and out to America was closed. This caused 38 commercial planes coming from different parts of the world to land at the Gander International Airport. The community, with approximately 9,000 people, has to find ways to accommodate the 7,000 crew and passengers. Amidst confusion and sadness from the sudden rerouting of their flights and the tragedies in the different parts of America, the “plane people” and the residents found solace in each other.
The show is a conception of the creative collaboration of the married couple Irene Sankoff and David Hein. In 2011, they went to Gander during its 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, and they were able to interview the residents and some visiting passengers about their experiences. The show began as a college production and was professionally produced in 2015 by the collaboration of La Jolla Playhouse and Seattle Repertory Theatre in San Diego, California. In its early run, the musical set new records for the highest-grossing show and the largest single ticket sales day in Seattle Repertory Theatre. After its run in the first two theatres, it transferred to the Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C., and to the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto, Ontario, in 2016.
Come From Away’s most significant year was in 2017, as it finally reached Broadway. Under Christopher Ashley’s direction, with choreography by Kelly Devine, scenic design by Beowulf Boritt, costumes from Toni-Leslie James, lighting design by Howell Binkley, sound design by Gareth Owen, and music direction by Ian Eisendrath, the current well-loved version of Come From Away was developed. It is still showing on Broadway but is slated to end on October 2, 2022. It will be the 49th longest-running show in Broadway history, with 25 previews and 1,670 regular performances.
Apart from Broadway, the show also continues to gain new productions internationally. Currently, there is a production in London, Melbourne, Dublin, Buenos Aires, and many City productions in Canada.
Since 2017, Come From Away has garnered positive reception and 19 awards from different award-giving bodies. The 2017 Tony Award for “Best Direction of a Musical” was won by Christopher Ashley for the musical. In the 2017 Drama Desk Awards, the musical garnered 3 wins for “Outstanding Musical,” “Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical,” for Jenn Colella’s portrayal of Beverly Bass, and “Outstanding Book of a Musical” for Irene Sankoff and David Hein. That same year, Outer Critics Circle Awards gave the musical 5 awards for “Outstanding Broadway Musical,” “Outstanding Book of a Musical (Broadway or Off-Broadway),” “Outstanding Director of a Musical,” “Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical,” and “Outstanding Sound Design (Play or Musical).” The musical’s West End production bagged 4 Olivier awards in 2019, including “Best New Musical,” “Outstanding Achievement in Music,” “Best Sound Design,” and “Best Theatre Choreographer.” These are only some of the several awards garnered by Come From Away, and with the positive critical reception it continues to receive, several others will surely be bagged in the years to come.
An excerpt from “Review: ‘Come From Away,’ a Canadian Embrace on a Grim Day” by The New York Times
“Come From Away” — set, you should know, on and after the world-shaking date of Sept. 11, 2001 — pushes so many emotional buttons that you wind up feeling like an accordion. That does not mean that you’ll leave thinking you have been played.
For this Canadian-born production, written by Irene Sankoff and David Hein and directed by Christopher Ashley, is as honorable in its intentions as it is forthright in its sentimentality. And it may provide just the catharsis you need in an American moment notorious for dishonorable and divisive behavior.
“Come From Away,” is smarter than it first appears. The show starts off in a grating key of deep earnestness, as a chorus of Ganderians step to the edge of the stage to deliver an anthem of hearty regional identity. (“They say no man is an island, but an island makes a man.”)
But as it proceeds, the show — based on interviews with the people who inspired it — covers a vast expanse of sensitive material with a respect for its complexity. It understands that much of what it portrays is guaranteed to stir fraught memories among many of us. And it mostly refrains from overegging what could have been a treacly, tear-salted pudding.
Are there moments that feel a little too heartwarming, like a rustic Canadian bar’s reflexive acceptance of a gay couple (Mr. Kimball and Caesar Samayoa) who nervously wander in? Sure. But the show also makes room for lingering prejudices — most notably regarding Muslims — and the sense that the altruism that arises in a crisis may evaporate as soon as the crisis is over.
In recent months, some Americans have spoken wistfully (and unrealistically) of moving to Canada, where people are kinder, gentler, more accepting of others. “Come From Away” allows you to make that move for an eventful 100 minutes.
But it also reminds us that the fellow feeling and good behavior of the days it portrays belongs to an isolated island in time. What follows is the sobering awareness, as one song has it, that as the afterglow recedes, “wherever you are, something’s gone.”
“A celebration of the best of humankind, and an uplifting piece of art for our times.” – Daily Beast
If you are into catchy Celtic folk-rock music, high-energy performances, and heartwarming story, this musical is definitely for you. You will surely laugh, cry and dance throughout the show. For all of you who haven’t seen the musical yet, or have plans to watch it again, reserve your tickets as early as today. Vancouver’s Queen Elizabeth Theatre will present Come From Away from August 16 until 28. Get your tickets now.