So many little things about “Come From Away” tally a warm embrace of a musical.
Actors play more than one role (you get used to it); the minimal staging magically transforms a dozen chairs into the innards of an airplane; the music is rustic, yet rousing.
What writers David Hein and Irene Sankoff – a married couple who were living in New York on Sept. 11, 2001 – have done with their Tony-winning musical (best director for Christopher Ashley in 2017) is pluck a fascinating thread of history and knit a giant quilt with it.
The story is set in the week following 9/11. On that traumatic day, 38 planes carrying about 7,000 passengers and crew members were ordered to land in Gander, a small province of Newfoundland.
How the benevolent residents of Gander responded to this friendly invasion is the heart – for real – of “Come From Away.”
The show played to resounding success in San Diego, Seattle, Washington, D.C., and Toronto before opening on Broadway in 2017 - where it’s still playing to capacity crowds. From Tuesday through Sunday, it will carry its messages of hope, friendship and faith to The Fox Theatre.
The “Come From Away” characters and events are rooted in reality, and following Tuesday’s performance, three of the people represented in the show – Claude Elliott, the former Mayor of Gander; Beverley Bass, a former American Airlines pilot; and Kevin Tuerff, a passenger and author of, “Channel of Peace: Stranded in Gander on 9/11” – will participate in a discussion panel. The trio will be joined by Nadia Theodore, Consul General of Canada.
Last week, Hein and Sankoff hopped on the phone to discuss their soul-stirring musical.
About the continued resonance of the show’s messages of unity and kindness:
David Hein: When we started writing it, we didn’t have a crystal ball and the story we fell in love with, it’s unfortunately become more and more relevant. We were New Yorkers at the time and we wanted to write a show that wasn’t a 9/11 show but a 9/12 show - a response to a tragedy. We wanted to tell the audience, come with us to Newfoundland and see how these people responded. You can always respond with kindness - not waiting for a tragedy, but every day. These days, our social media is so clogged with anger and divisiveness and fear.
About the influences on the musical style of the show:
Hein: Irene grew up on musical theater and I on folk and the show is a marriage of the two. It’s a lot of what they call Newfoundland music. It comes from a Celtic folk tradition. (When we went to Gander for the 10th anniversary of 9/11) we got to see bands there live - this incredible music with accordion, fiddle, hand drums, this music that you’ve never heard on a Broadway stage that somehow feels fresh and alive. We had the extra challenge of trying to musically represent the world coming together in Newfoundland. Culture and music have sort of stayed the same there for some time.
On stories they’ve heard after people see the show:
Hein: We’ve seen a lot of life-changing things, like the countless young women interested in going into aviation (the character of Beverley is based on Beverley Bass, the first American Airlines female captain, who landed one of the planes in Gander). There’s a lot of kids who come to the show. We weren’t sure what their experience would be since they weren’t even born when 9/11 happened, but we’ve seen them respond to understanding why the world changed that day, and things like young Muslim children understanding why their parents might be fearful. We’ve had many educators who have come and work with teachers across the border. It’s a safe way to begin the conversation about 9/11.
On the status of the movie version of “Come From Away”:
Irene Sankoff: We’re still waiting on notes. We’ve sent in a couple of drafts now, so we’re just waiting for a green light.
Hein: It’s exciting that we get to tell it in a whole new medium. What do 38 planes look like on a tiny path? What do thousands of people look like streaming down the street?
On how the show is received in other countries (it played Dublin earlier this year and in January opened on London’s West End, where it won four Olivier Awards, including best new musical. An Australian production opens in July):
Sankoff: There’s this idea of British reserve, but it’s been anything but reserved! We’ve seen the reaction. My future brother-in-law is from Wales and saw it and wrote to say, “I’ve never seen an audience react this way to a show.” It’s like a rock concert at the end.
“Come From Away”
7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday. $31-$145.25. Fox Theatre, 660 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta. 1-855-285-8499, www.foxtheatre.org.
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