From 9/11 to Broadway?

Come From Away

Come From Away is a clunky title for a fast moving energetic musical and 9/11 is unlikely subject matter, but the two are currently joined in an upbeat but touching stage production at Seattle Repertory Theater.

The musical’s title comes from a Newfoundlander expression for visitors who arrive on The Rock, as locals refer to their island home. Written by two Canadian playwrights, Irene Sankoff and David Hein, Come From Away tells the story of one of the 38 commercial flights that diverted to Gander Newfoundland as the World Trade Center catastrophe unfolded. This unusual effort is co-produced by the La Jolla Playhouse and Seattle Rep with road previews in both locations. Like Memphis, another La Jolla/Seattle Rep collaboration and the 2010 Tony Award winner for Best New Musical, Come From Away may very well be Broadway bound. Yesterday the sold out Seattle production was extended another week, closing on December 20 instead of the 13th as originally planned.

The story revolves around the crew and passengers of an American Airlines flight that is stranded for four days while the New York event plays out. The people of Gander open their homes and hearts to the crew and passengers and like any good theater piece we are drawn into the story as the passengers, crew and townspeople share their heartbreak and hospitality.

Come From Away 2

9/11 was an emotional roller coaster, and it’s difficult to explain how this outlier artistic effort is able to straddle the tragedy of the main event and the humor and humanity of the people in remote Gander while the crew and passengers sit out their interrupted journeys. It is a triumph that the writers are able to pull it off.

The very musical cast shows us the real life experiences of the crew and passengers – much of the dialogue is verbatim from recorded interviews – in a mixture of dialogue and song. Its story line is made richer by the fact that the Boeing 777 Captain is a woman (Beverly Bass was the first woman Captain at American Airlines and the founder of the International Association of Women Airline Pilots). Her story, alone, is worth telling and the play gives voice (literally) to her career as an female pioneer in the cockpit. Throughout the play she manages the diversion, cares for her passengers, and tries to reassure her husband Tom, in Dallas, that everything is OK. That alone doesn’t put Come From Away in the Tony award category but a good story is a good story and this one is. It may be that my experience as an international commercial pilot who transited Gander several times raised my emotional interest in the subject but that’s a personal connection not the reason I think it’s a winner.

On the other hand, I recently blogged about Art and Life in a post about Arthur Miller’s A View From The Bridge. Come From Away shows us again how art can elevate and simplify the emotional impact of a complicated set of facts and experiences.

Come From Away 3

A reviewer in the LA Times expressed his belief that there was not a broad based audience or Broadway future for Come From Away. How so? Is it because the geography is Newfoundland or there aren’t any big name stars involved? That’s too parochial for me, and it doesn’t resonate. This is rollicking good musical, and a touching universal story with a superior cast. I predict it WILL go to Broadway. I’ve never returned to see a play or musical for a second time in the same run, but M and I have tickets again on Saturday. It’s too good to miss. I laughed, cried, and stomped my feet – sometimes at the same time. Don’t miss it.


  1. Is this Jack’s Travels or Jack’s Travails?

    Anyway, I was glad to read your post cuz w are going to the Rep tomorrow and I wondered if this unusual story and setting could be successful. Evidently you think so.

    Semper Fi,

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