The events of Sept. 11 are forever etched on our collective consciousness. It’s particularly memorable for thousands of airline passengers who were stranded in Gander, Newfoundland for four days when all air traffic in the United States was grounded after 9/11.
That is an unlikely scenario for a Broadway musical, but “Come From Away” that lands at Segerstrom Center June 21-26 manages to tell a riveting story with characters we care about and music that propels the story forward while providing moving moments packed with emotions that run the gamut from elation and whimsey to poignancy and pathos.
“Come From Away” had its world premiere engagements at La Jolla Playhouse and Seattle Repertory Theatre in 2015, and opened on Broadway in March of 2017, where it has been playing to standing room only audiences.
The joy of “Come From Away” lies in the stories of ordinary people experiencing an extraordinary moment in time, and how they survived emotionally, spiritually and physically.
The cast is an ensemble of 12 actors who portray multiple characters. The memorable music is performed by an eight-piece on-stage band. The simple set and staging are perfect for the presentational style of the show.
Making of “Come From Away”
How does the story of Gander, Newfoundland on September 11, 2001 transform into a musical?
According to information from Segerstrom Center, David Hein and Irene Sankoff – a Canadian husband-and-wife writing team – lived in New York on 9/11. The couple traveled to Newfoundland in September 2011 for the 10th anniversary commemorating the pilots and “Plane People” that had returned to Gander. There, they gathered interviews with everyone they met and experienced the Newfoundlanders’ generosity.
From here, they sorted through the interviews, documentaries, and letters from around the world. This surplus of material needed to be streamlined. The playwrights asked themselves, “What is the story? What is the throughline?” In 2012 the couple was invited to workshop the show for the inaugural year of the Canadian Music Theatre Project at Sheridan College. They presented 45 minutes of material, essentially the first half of the show. Fourteen student actors played over 100 characters and sang the music from Newfoundland and around the world.
The musical journeyed to the National Alliance of Musical Theatre Festival in New York in 2013. David and Irene made connections with major regional theaters across the country, including La Jolla Playhouse. Christopher Ashley, director, joined the team and co-production with Seattle Repertory Theatre.
“Come From Away” then traveled to Ford’s Theatre in Washington, DC and the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto before landing on Broadway. The cast of the show has been cut down to twelve and the stories consolidated into one act.
“Come From Away” is an hour and 45 minutes with no intermission, but it’s in constant motion and an enthralling show from start to finish.
The last time “Come From Away” played at Segerstrom Center in February 2019, audiences responded with instant standing ovations. Expect the same for this staging. It’s a truly remarkable experience.
For tickets to “Come From Away,” visit SCFTA.org.