On September 11th, 2001, when the planes crashed into the twin towers, U.S. airspace was completely shut down. This meant that 38 planes with 7000 coming into the northeast needed to be diverted: they ended up in Gander, Newfoundland, a small town with a population of less than 7000 people. As the planes touched down, everyone in Gander needed to scramble and assemble to deal with this influx of temporary refugees that has unexpectedly landed on their doorstep.
It’s a strange concept for a musical, and certainly not one you would anticipate being this hilarious, energetic, and heartwarming. Come From Away manages to create a stunning balance between the tragedy of 9/11 and the hilarity of this wacky situation. The sung-and-spoken soundtrack moves from energetic Irish folk inspired music that makes you want to get up and dance to quiet, contemplative pieces. Yet it is never abrupt or jarring.
Gander welcomed the refugees with open arms, even as they scrambled to find food, clothing, blankets, and shelter. Small, memorable details are based off interviews with the actual passengers who were stranded in the small Canadian town for four days. These details lends the show a touching intimacy and authenticity, along with an urgency that makes this compact 1hr40min show seem even shorter.
Come From Away also doesn’t shy away from the realities of 9/11 for people of Middle Eastern origin. One of the characters is an Egyptian man who is immediately a target of extreme suspicion. This culminated in a humiliating strip-search when a flight attendant refused to board the plane with him. I liked the light touch here – the show didn’t gloss over it, but neither did they bang us over the head with it.
There’s a lot packed into this short show. People die, fall in love, and break up, a female pilot tells her story, a rare Bonobo chimpanzee gives birth and loses her baby, and there’s even time to incorporate the reunion of Gander and their passengers ten years later! It is an incredible feat: a testament to human compassion, a reminder of human prejudice, and a subtle nod to the current refugee situation. It’s great, hilarious, heartwarming fun!
(Also, I saw this with my friend, and upon exiting, her first words were: “I loved that. Not as much as that show that was on steroids, but still a lot!” She means Great Comet! I didn’t even hint for her to say that. I’m so proud!)