TORONTO –After years spent criss-crossing the continent with a series of sold-out engagements, “Come From Away” joins the canon of celebrated Canadian productions poised to make a splash on Broadway.
The heartwarming musical is set in Gander, N.L. during the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks. The population of the remote East Coast town doubled after residents provided refuge to 6,579 passengers and crew on 38 planes diverted when U.S. air space was closed after the tragedy.
“To be involved in this show in particular is something incredibly special because it really does speak to generosity of the human spirit,” said Newfoundlander Petrina Bromley who plays Bonnie Harris, the real-life SPCA manager who cared for animals travelling in cargo holds of planes.
“The fact that they are Newfoundlanders, for me, just makes it so much more rich.”
Previews of “Come From Away” begin Saturday at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre in New York. The musical has already received critical raves at earlier showcases in La Jolla, Calif., Washington, D.C., Seattle and Toronto. But its Broadway production serves as the show’s debut in the city that was the epicentre of the terror attacks.
“Come From Away” married co-creators Irene Sankoff and David Hein were in New York on 9/11. Hein’s cousin was among the fortunate individuals able to escape from the twin towers.
“We take it seriously bringing it back there, and at the same time, when we started telling this, we knew partly because of our experience that this wasn’t really a 9/11 story,” the Regina-born, Saskatoon-raised Hein said in an interview last fall.
“We call it a 9/12 story because it was the way a small community acted after a larger event … It’s set against the backdrop of 9/11, but it’s really about what happened in Newfoundland, and it’s about the stories they told us that are amazing.
“There’s a lot of laughter in the show,” he added. “There’s a lot of tears, there’s a lot of power. But there’s also a lot of fun things that happened: people falling in love, people changing their lives for the better.”
After speaking with theatre-goers affected by the tragedy, the creators were told the show was a positive memory that didn’t replace 9/11 but added to their experience, Hein noted.
“We’ve shown the show in Washington, D.C. and we met a lot of survivors of the attack, and we toured the Pentagon,” said Sankoff, a Toronto native.
“I think the biggest compliment is that they’ve returned to see the show after seeing it more than once. They come again and again.”
The Maple Leaf has previously been well-represented on the Great White Way with other lauded homegrown hits like “The Drowsy Chaperone” and “Jesus Christ Superstar.”
“Come From Away” was directed by Tony Award nominee Christopher Ashley (“Memphis”) and choreographed by Tony nominee Kelly Devine.
“One of my colleagues called it like a big, lovable dog that knocks you over and licks your face –it’s hard not to love it,” said Martin Morrow, president of the Canadian Theatre Critics Association.
“You can be cynical about it. It’s definitely a feel-good musical … and it’s one that audiences need right now.”
Bromley said the story has for so long been about the international implications of the tragedy.
“It turned into a war issue, but there are so many … tales of heroes that need to be told,” she said.
“We all need to hear those things and be reminded that they’re possible.”