Check out my vlog from seeing the new musical Come From Away in Washington, D.C. and read my review below!
Everyone has a story from that day. Me? I was barely four years old, not nearly old enough to comprehend the atrocities that occurred on September 11, 2001. I was in pre-school, and my mom says she didn’t pull me out early in the day like some of the other parents did. From what I remember, she told me and my brother that some very bad men destroyed buildings in New York City and killed thousands of people. That terrified me, and I couldn’t sleep for a week.
But for nearly 7,000 passengers who were flying above America that day, they were diverted to a little town in Canada called Gander, where they doubled the population and were stranded for the week following the attacks. Theirs is the story told in the new musical Come From Away, now playing at the Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. through October 16th.
Come From Away offers a chance to remember that day. To remember where we were, how we were feeling, and to remember what happened. But most of all, it gives an opportunity to pause, to heal, and to remember the humanity that was found on 9/11, to remember that there was still so much good that came from the violence and pain.
The plot of Come From Away is based on fact, weaving together the stories of both the Canadian islanders and the diverted passengers into a breathtaking, heartwarming narrative. Irene Sankoff and David Hein, the writers of the show, visited Gander on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and gathered hundreds of hours of interviews from the people who were brought together that week.
Every character is based on a real person, or is a composite of real people, and the cast of the show does an incredible job breathing new life into their stories. The show is a true celebration of the ensemble, and a reminder of just how powerful an ensemble can be. Everybody in the diverse cast embodies between 60 and 70 roles throughout the course of the show, from Ganderites to stranded travelers. Each must keep close track of the dialects, relationships, and motivations that form the detailed characters, as the scenes fall into one another and the actors literally turn into new moments; but, not without help from the turn table in the center of the minimalistic, worn-wood set by Beowulf Boritt.
With skillful direction from Christopher Ashley, the potent cast has a tangible bond and strong sense of community. Throughout the absorbing, 105-minute show, the actors step outside the story to provide narration, giving the impression that the musical is in fact a re-telling, with the passengers and townspeople looking back and remembering the details, piecing together those few days when the world stopped and the only thing they had was each other. With this narrative technique, the story belongs to everyone, and gives the audience insight into the perspectives of all involved.
For all the sadness and heartbreak in the show (which caused me to cry on multiple occasions), there is an uplifting spirit that lives in the piece. Instead of the Ganderites turning away the passengers (who were total strangers), they stepped up and went above and beyond to show love, generosity, understanding, and acceptance. Barriers of culture, religion, and language, that heightened tensions from the attacks for years to come, were broken that week by everyone in Gander.
One aspect of the show that brings joy among the heartache is the music—the Celtic, folk, rock sound unique to Newfoundland. The musical themes are rousing, and the language is one of hope and strength. During a scene at a local bar, the on-stage musicians come on from the sidelines and join in with the celebration of life, complete with stamping feet, clapping hands, and roaring “hey!”s. With soaring harmonies that will give you chills and move you to tears, the music is both stunning and deeply emotive.
The songs themselves—from hilarious recounts of being stuck on a plane for over a day to ballads about what was lost—will get stuck in your head and I guarantee you’ll be tapping your toes and humming the melodies as you leave the theatre.
Poignant, thought-provoking, and altogether human, Come From Away is a show where everyone leaves changed: from the characters in the show to the audience members who rise to their feet in a booming standing ovation as the haunting refrain of “you are here,” hangs in the air. From its first occurrence at the beginning of the show, when “you are here” was a declaration to the passengers of where they landed, to the closing of the show, when it became a somber reminder that all we have is the present and we have to make it count, the lyrics resonate with a bittersweet tribute to life.
So, where were you that day? What’s your story?