Historical events have always been source material for stage plays and musicals – it’s another way of “telling their story” (to paraphrase a lyric from Hamilton, arguably the most famous history-based musical in recent years, if of all time) – whether the show contains historical figures and events (like the aforementioned Hamilton, or are fictional stories with historical context (like Memphis). Come From Away is the third (of four) pair of tickets obtained at the Broadway Cares Flea Market, and is again, a show I was interested in seeing, though I knew it’d be an emotional roller coaster, given its source material. The show is in one act, telescoping those five days into 90 minutes.
The events depicted onstage are based on recent history – set in the week after the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, when 38 planes were diverted to Gander, Newfoundland, Canada, and how the town of Gander (and neighboring towns) took in the nearly 7,000 stranded passengers and gave them food and shelter, as well as much needed comfort and compassion in the wake of tragedy.
The overall scenic design is sparse and cozy, with minimal set pieces. The show is structured as a true ensemble piece, with the cast of 12 playing several roles – both of the Gander citizens and of the various people who were on those planes, switching characters with quick and subtle costume changes. There are moments of levity amid the shock and confusion, as the stranded passengers struggle to hear from their loved ones (in the days before cell phones were widely used) and deal with the stress of being stranded “in the middle of nowhere”, and the Gander citizens struggle to accommodate and comfort the stranded passengers.
The stage door scene was low-key, with some audience members dressed up in costume (after all, it was Halloween night) with many of the cast coming out to sign playbills and pose for photos. I enjoyed Come From Away, though I find it odd to write that, considering the show exists because of the events on 9/11. As a New York City resident, I lived through it, and it physically hurts when I think back to that time (I had visited the World Trade Center the day before in the morning for a job interview). I can’t bear to watch any news footage or documentary about it without weeping. Come From Away is different in that it provides an outside perspective of that time, and ultimately depicts and reminds me of the unity and basic human kindness for others during that time – a beacon of hope in America’s darkest hour.
We can use some of that unity and basic human kindness nowadays.