If you’re hopin’ for a harbour, then you’ll find an open door
June 5, 2017 3:14 PM   Subscribe

On 9/11, a tiny Canadian town opened its runways and heart to 7,000 stranded travelers.
Love this touching story of Gander; revel in it. Because every year, as Sept. 11 reminds America of the unfiltered evil in our world, it’s also necessary to remind ourselves of the human capacity for kindness, selflessness and generosity.

Gander is a small town on the island of Newfoundland, with one of the largest airports in the world. A key refuelling stop for transatlantic aircraft from the 1940s through the 1960s, the airport was reduced to servicing only a few flights per day when new jumbo jets made refuelling stops unnecessary.

On September 11, 2001, when flights were rerouted to their nearest airports after U.S. airspace was closed, 38 jets suddenly and unexpectedly landed in Gander, stranding some 7,000 passengers for up to 5 days in a town with only 500 hotel rooms.

Come from Away is a new musical, telling the stories of some of the real Gander residents and some of the 7,000 stranded travelers they housed and fed. The show has been received by audiences and critics as a cathartic reminder of the capacity for human kindness in even the darkest of times and the triumph of humanity over hate.

Written by Irene Sankoff and David Hein, from the interviews they did in Gander on the 10th anniversary of these events, the musical is performed by a cast of 12, with each actor playing multiple parts, and an onstage band of 8, playing playing piano, synthesizer, accordion, harmonium, guitars, mandolins, bouzuki, bodhram, djembe, cajon, drums, shakers, bass, flutes, whistles, uilleann pipes and fiddle.

Broadway World called the production "emotionally transcendent" and "the best musical I've seen all year and possibly ever."

The Toronto Sun wrote: "Blame Canada: a grim day in American history has been transformed into a joyous and emotional musical about the indomitable human spirit ... Here are real people and personal stories on both sides of the equation, all brought to life by only a dozen superb actors in a true ensemble. And by terrific music."

The New York Post, in a story entitled This is Justin Trudeau’s ‘Hamilton’ wrote: "The kind of no-questions-asked generosity on display is one that big-city dwellers routinely forget exists ... The best stories of real-life tragedy shine a light on humanity’s incredible capacity for goodness, in spite of enormous odds. This is one of those stories."

The "Washington Post wrote: The lump that forms in your throat in the opening minutes of “Come From Away” — and remains lodged there for 100 buoyant minutes more — is the physiological confirmation that this effervescent musical, enveloped in Canadian good will, is an antidote for what ails the American soul."

You can listen to the cast recording on youtube or Spotify. The lyrics are available at genius.com.
posted by still_wears_a_hat (17 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
My very petty review is that the (presumably American) actors portraying Newfoundlanders did a better job on the accents than most mainland Canadian actors have done that I can remember
posted by Space Coyote at 3:24 PM on June 5, 2017

George W Bush, before Congress, 9/20/2001: America has no truer friend than Great Britain.

Me, watching it on TV: BITCH WHAT ABOUT CANADA
posted by scaryblackdeath at 3:31 PM on June 5, 2017 [13 favorites]

There is one Newfoundlander in the cast: Petrina Bromley.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 3:38 PM on June 5, 2017 [1 favorite]


Since then, the Broadway production has won 5 Outer Critics Circle awards and 3 Drama Desk awards (winning best musical and best book at both awards; Jenn Colella has won at both as well; her most notable character is Beverley Bass, the first female captain at American Airlines). 7 Tony nominations as well.

Saw it a couple of weeks ago; it's wonderful. Fun and funny, really gets the Newfoundland spirit and the music. (Bob Hallett from Great Big Sea consulted on the tunes.) The cast is a very strong ensemble, changing roles by the second. Also diverse, in that few of them are attractive under-35s. Couldn't recommend it more highly, especially if you're looking for something uplifting. See it.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 4:13 PM on June 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

We'll be at Radio City Music Hall on Sunday night, hoping for a Come from Away sweep. (I'll be the girl in the blue lace gown standing on her chair if the show wins the big three).

Someone posted on Talkin' Broadway on May 27 that "This morning, at breakfast on a QM2 crossing to NY, we were seated with a couple of "Plane People" (although, they said that Newfies call them "Strandees"). He and his wife will be arriving in NY on Wednesday and were hoping to see Come From Away. With no resources to call on from England he had tried to get tickets to no avail. (I assume he tried Telecharge or tried to find a theater number)." They asked if anyone could help them get tickets for these folks. On Saturday, they posted this update.

Someone saw the request and contacted the composers, who contacted the production team to enable them to get house seats - all within 3 hours on a Saturday morning of a holiday weekend! The "plane people" were even taken backstage after the show. The community around this show so wonderfully reflects the message and the story.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 4:52 PM on June 5, 2017 [10 favorites]

Damnit, roomthreeseventeen.

posted by jacquilynne at 5:13 PM on June 5, 2017 [3 favorites]

Newfies call them "Strandees"

FYI, many Newfoundlanders don't like being called Newfies, it has a complex history here.
posted by oulipian at 5:34 PM on June 5, 2017 [7 favorites]

Oulipian I was going to say the same. The term has a fair bit of baggage.

A friend of mine used to work at the Gander Airport (a couple years after 9/11) and he always talked about how great the community was and how wonderfully old school cool the old airport was. When I first heard about this musical I was pretty dubious: "No way any American is gonna find a folksy musical about Newfoundlanders being friendly any good." I thought. Glad I'm wrong. Hey maybe we'll see Newfoundland restaurants opening up across New York! I look forward to Food blogs breathlessly telling me why I should eat Jiggs dinner.

There's a good radio review of the events at the Gander Airport on 9/11 on this CBC Radio programme. Vinyl Cafe had a good show about Gander as well but they seem to have them sequestered currently.
posted by Ashwagandha at 6:00 PM on June 5, 2017 [3 favorites]

FYI, many Newfoundlanders don't like being called Newfies, it has a complex history here.

As an Ontarian, I can recall a time where there were a whole bunch of jokes in wide circulation that had, as the inevitable punchline, "a Newfie" in them.

Case in point: my parents owned one of these particular 70s-era tea towels (I don't think they have it any more), a copy of which someone is selling on Etsy.

Description, in case the link dies, since it's the only image I can find:

The tea towel is a print of a hypothetical Newfoundland three- or, rather, "tree"-dollar bill, bearing the likeness of a man wearing a sou'wester cap and smoking a pipe. On its face, it says it's issued by the "Grand Bank of Newfoundland," it claims to be "Payable to Garge on demand," "Garge," the bill continues, being "A NFLDR name who hijacked a submarine and demanded money and a parachute." The "NFLD 1949" on the bill depicted on the towel is a reference to the year in which Newfoundland joined Confederation.

To me, that artifact is a childhood memory that's highly emblematic of the derision with which other Canadians treated (and some of whom still do treat) Newfoundlanders.

Anyway, having seen it - the musical is great. If you can go see it, do it up.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 6:16 PM on June 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

Ok I teared up.
posted by monkeymike at 7:39 PM on June 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

I don't think it's Hamilton, but I cried through basically the whole thing.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:25 PM on June 5, 2017 [3 favorites]

My father was the vice-principal at a Halifax area high school that opened its doors in a similar way after 9/11. The gym was turned into a makeshift dorm, local businesses brought food and coffee, the cable company hooked up cable at the school so that the stranded travelers could see what was happening, and the local community pitched in to help make sure the visitors were entertained, and could see the sights. Literally, people were pulling up in minivans to offer rides to local points of interest.

"Who wants to see Peggy's Cove? Well, get in!"

At one point, both of my parents were involved in the process, and were discussing something or other when a German man approached.

"Excuse me?", he said.


"Why are you doing all of this for us?"

"Oh. We never considered not doing it, I guess."

I think my parents were as confused with his question as he was with the hospitality. I try to remember this story when things aren't going so well; it helps.
posted by tillermo at 11:39 PM on June 5, 2017 [17 favorites]

tillermo, I am 100% Team Your Parents. What a relief to have someone to help, as extensively as one can. I'm not totally sure what one does in the absence of people to help! Watch 24-hour news and feel anxious, I guess.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:23 AM on June 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

I had seen documentaries about Gander airport's role in handling emergencies and diversions, but never heard about the city's role that day. This whole thing is amazing.
posted by wingless_angel at 2:36 AM on June 6, 2017

The Day the World Came to Town is an absolutely lovely book chronicling Gander's role in providing hospitality to the thousands of stranded passengers. I found it fascinating.
posted by anderjen at 9:37 AM on June 6, 2017

I saw Come From Away about a month ago. I went in relatively blind, knowing roughly a two-sentence summary of the show. So I didn't know to bring tissues with me. Hopefully all my sniffling wasn't too annoying to the people around me.

The ability of the cast to convincingly play multiple characters through changes in voice, accent, and costume was astounding. Though one can tell, for example, that the school bus driver and Kevin 1 were played by the same actor, they were no less distinct than any other pair of unrelated characters in this or any other show.

Also notable is the timing of the pieces so that the show pretty much runs straight through with little space for the audience to applaud — I read somewhere that there were only two pauses in the show for audience applause, both after ensemble numbers (one would be the opening number; I don't specifically recall the second). So at the end of what would ordinarily be a big solo show-stopping number such as Colella's "Me and the Sky," the cast deftly transitions into the next scene just a fraction of a second before the audience would normally start applauding.

When this becomes a touring production (I'm assuming it will, no insider knowledge here), I'll see it again and encourage everyone I know to see it, even those who aren't usually fans of musical theatre.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:54 AM on June 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

I don't know how long they usually play the Screech Out, but the day I saw it last week, a day or two after the people that roomthreeseventeen posted about, the guy playing the stand-up drum thingy gestured toward the balcony, where there were a group of people waving Newfoundland flags, and pretty much played the rest of the song to them. It was about 3 times longer than it is on the recording. I don't know if they vary the time they play based on the audience, but it seemed like it. And it was great - everyone in the audience clapping along and waving at the people in the balcony.

For people who haven't seen the show, the band comes to the front of the stage after the cast takes their curtain call, and plays Screech Out. It's no question the best curtain call I've ever seen.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 12:55 PM on June 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

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