Photo credit: Matthew Murphy
“Do you remember where you were on September 11th?”
It’s a question that almost every North American will be asked for the rest of our lifetime. For 700 people, the answer will be Gander, Newfoundland.
A musical about 9/11 is no easy feat. But that’s exactly what Come From Away is, and it executes it perfectly.
For years, Gander, Newfoundland was one to one of the world’s biggest airports. That’s because planes needed to use the small town as a place to refuel before or after their trip across the atlantic. As planes advanced, the need for Gander’s mega airport decreased, at least until September 11th. That’s the day that 38 airplanes were diverted to the small community and sat on the tarmac for five days.
The people on those planes instantly doubled the population of Gander, and based on the stories, you would think Gander was practically waiting for them.
Those true stories come to life in Come From Away</strong>, which has just opened in Toronto, a layover until it’s final destination: Broadway. It will open there this spring. And when it does, it might very well be the most Canadian musical to ever hit The Great White Way. And when I say Canadian, I’m not just talking about the much of the cast, the producing team and the story, I’m talking about the jokes as well, which if any part of the show stalls on Broadway it may be the jokes, including mentions of Tim Hortons, Super 7, Shoppers and moose. Lots of moose.
But it’s a musical about Gander, and it never apologizes for it. Nor should it.
Come From Away is 110 minutes non-stop musical fun. There’s no intermission and as an audience member you don’t want one. The entire cast plays a variety of characters, each of which is on stage for almost the entire show. They barely have time to catch their breath and it couldn’t be more thrilling to watch. And I feel weird saying that a musical based on 9/11 is fun. Because in theory it shouldn’t be fun. But Come From Away masters that fine line, all while juggling storylines of religion, sexual orientation and the greatest terrorist attack to ever hit the United States. It could have been cheesy. It could have been depressing. It could have been awful.
But Come From Away wasn’t anything but. When I wasn’t laughing, I was crying, or stomping my feet like anyone in a good ol’ kitchen party should. I can honestly say I’ve never seen a musical like Come From Away, nor have I seen many as good. And I’m saying that on the day that I saw Matilda just two hours before, which is musical theatre perfection.
Come From Away doesn’t have many songs that you’ll leave the theatre humming, but as soon as the soundtrack is available, I can easily see myself devouring it on a daily basis. It captures so perfectly the feelings of those 700 passengers. The fear, the relief, the despair and the hope.
The night we went, it was opening night for the Toronto run of the show. We didn’t know, we just happened to buy tickets for that night. But boy am I glad we were there. After the curtain call, the real residents of Gander, Newfoundland, who inspired some of the stories surprised their respective characters on stage. It was amazing to watch these characters come to life, and extra special to then see them in real life.
The emotion and excitement behind Come From Away is real. I think this show has what it takes to make it big, both on Broadway and hopefully years to come in theatres across Canada. As the mayor of Gander said after opening night: “I think the world today needs a good story.” And I couldn’t agree more. The world feels like it’s falling apart and Come From Away is a perfect reminder of what happens when we come together. I can’t wait for you to see this show, because I know you’re going to love it!