Sharon and I make no secret about our love for Broadway and, in particular, our love for Broadway musicals. Most of the current shows seem to be based on movies or around the songs of a famous musician. Coming up with an original idea isn’t easy and there’s no safety net of a built-in audience. So when someone pitched a musical about events that happened during 9/11, I’d imagine the initial response wasn’t very positive. But that’s exactly what the show “Come From Away” is about. And believe it or not, it’s one of the most endearing, uplifting and inspiring things I’ve seen in quite a while. The fact that the story is based around aviation didn’t hurt my investment level in the show any, either.
Everyone who was alive that day has a story of what they were doing. Knowing the audience of this website, I’d imagine there were a few of you who were flying or due to fly that day. “Come From Away” is based on the stories of people who were just in that situation, flying on a plane when the events of 9/11 happened.
When the U.S. airspace was closed, all planes in the air were ordered to land immediately. For those who were not yet over the U.S., they had to go to the nearest available airport. For transatlantic routes, that airport was Gander (YQX)
Gander is a town in Newfoundland, Canada. Don’t know it? You’ve probably flown right over it like we did on our recent flight from JFK-LHR.
While Gander used to be an important airport (it served as a refueling stop for flights headed across the Atlantic), it’s now just a spot on the map with a huge airport that’s mainly reserved for emergency landings.
That is, until September 11th when 38 civilian flights landed there with more than 6,000 passengers who didn’t know what was going on and why they were there. At the time, Gander had a population of around 10,000 people. “Come From Away” is the story of the passengers who were stranded in Gander for five days and the Canadian towns who served as the hosts to these passengers.
While we’ve seen the show twice in New York, it wasn’t until the touring company visited Orlando that I thought of the connection between aviation to the show. One of the major roles in the show is a Captain from American Airlines, Beverley Bass. The theater critic from our local paper, the Orlando Sentinel, interviewed her before the show came to town and her story is fascinating in its own right. Here’s a link to that interview.
Captain Bass is no stranger to being the center of attention. She was only the third female pilot hired by American in 1976 and became the first female captain in 1986. Later that year she headed the first fully female flight crew on a commercial flight.
While part of the show is based on the story of the flights landing in Gander, the rest of stories played out by the ensemble cast are the ones of the passengers stranded in Gander and the townspeople who took them in. The writers of the show collected these stories by attending a reunion held in Gander 10 years after the event.
If you’re the type of person who doesn’t like to be trapped in a theater for 3 hours, you’ll be happy to know that “Come From Away” takes place over a compact 90 minutes. It’s a steamroller of emotions, showing the fear, compassion, confusion, anger, and love that can come out of such a horrific event.
I don’t want to ruin the show for you. Here’s a short promo video if you’re interested:
If you have no interest in seeing a musical, there’s a documentary called Operation Yellow Ribbon that was produced by NBC and shown during the Vancouver 2010 Olympics. It’s a story of the town of Gander, the passengers of the planes and how the events of the day forever changed this small Canadian town and the passengers who were diverted there.
If you question the purity of the human spirit, the story of the people of Gander and the airline passengers who were stranded there over the days after 9/11 is one that will restore your faith. If you’re one who likes to have your spirits lifted by a musical, go to see “Come From Away” if you get a chance.
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary