come from away feature

“Come from Away” on Broadway – A Review

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On September 11, 2001, I was late to work (not that unusual) and there was a subway delay (also not that unusual).  When I finally approached my office, one of my coworkers saw me outside and told me that a plane had hit the World Trade Center.  I assumed that it was a small plane, and an accident, and hurried inside to find out more.  The press office had a TV and everyone in the building was soon glued to it, watching the Twin Towers fall, unsure what would happen next.  I ended up walking back home that day (about 11 miles), calling all my friends and relatives to check on them, and watching the news incessantly for days.

There was one news story from that time that I missed entirely, though, and knew nothing at all about until I learned that Come from Away was on Broadway–the story of what happened in Gander, a small town in Canada, when the residents there had to deal with the sudden influx of 38 passenger planes, bringing almost 7,000 stranded passengers from around the globe into their community (nearly doubling the population).

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This is a story you will want to know about, and a musical you will want to see.  With a cast of 12 (each actor playing many roles), the performance depicts both the locals, scrambling to feed and accommodate all of these frightened people far from home, and the passengers, disrupted and diverse.

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The stories and the characters are based on interviews by the playwrights (Irene Sankoff and David Hein) of the people who had been in Gander at that time–from the volunteer at the animal shelter who looked after the dogs, cats, and two rare bonobo chimpanzees that were on board the planes, to an unlikely couple (she from Texas, he from England) who found romance in an unusual situation, to a trailblazing female pilot heartbroken that the aircraft she so loved had been used as a weapon, to a pair of women (one local and one from NYC) who bonded over their firefighter sons, to the Mayor of Gander and the striking bus drivers (they suspended hostilities for the duration of the crisis and moved the passengers to shelters), to a gay couple who feared they’d find hostility and instead found welcome and acceptance.  One of the most moving interludes was when one of the bus drivers, trying to communicate with some terrified international passengers who did not speak English, found a biblical passage (although the language was different, the chapters and verses were the same) telling a woman, “Fear not.” There’s a raucous scene at a local bar where the visitors were invited to become honorary Newfoundlanders.  The Canadians demonstrated incredible generosity, inviting their international guests into their community, into their homes, and refusing money.  The passengers, some of whom became lifelong friends with their hosts, responded by stuffing $60,000 (in a variety of currencies) into the Mayor’s suggestion box, and by raising money for a scholarship fund as a fitting thank you for the tremendous hospitality they received.

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It’s a wonderful story and it’s a story we need right now.  Be not afraid—not of people from different countries, or who speak different languages, or who follow other religious traditions.

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There were tensions, to be sure…and there’s a very painful scene in which a Muslim passenger was singled out, humiliated, and strip-searched.  But overall, the story is of overwhelming and profound goodness–welcoming the stranger, and finding, as is often the case, that what unites us to our fellow humans is greater than what divides us.  Come from away and come to New York City, and don’t miss this big-hearted show.

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Laura LaVelle is an attorney and writer who lives in Connecticut, in a not quite 100-year-old house, along with her husband, two daughters, and a cockatiel.

Laura can be contacted at laura@newswhistle.com.

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IMAGE CREDITS

Main Lead-In Image Courtesy of Come From Away’s Official Site; YouTube Video Courtesy of BroadwayInHD.