Book, music and lyrics by Irene Sankoff and David Hein
By Owen Bryant
When you think of the events of 9/11 some of the most horrific images are the first to come to mind. The event sent this country—and the rest of the world—into a cataclysmic shock that forever changed our perspectives. It probably isn’t the first think you would think of as musical material, but the last show at the Pioneer was just that—and a true story, on top of that.
Come From Away was the latest entry in the Broadway Comes to Reno series, and for such a thematic downer, it uplifted in the best of ways.
This may not be a well-known piece of history, but when the events of that fateful day unfolded, there were hundreds of US-bound planes who got the call mid-flight to land at the closest airport. The pilots were given little information, and the passengers received even less. 38 airplanes were forced to land in the small town of Gander, Newfoundland, unloading over 7000 passengers into a town prepared neither for the company, nor for the lasting bonds they shared with their temporary refugees.
An incredibly talented cast of 12 played both the town residents and a few select passengers, bringing to life the real interactions and friendships that were formed during the days they were grounded. The townsfolk included the Gander mayor, an animal shelter worker, a hotel owner; the passengers included an African man, a gay couple, a Muslim man who immediately has to watch his back, and an American woman and British man in a budding romantic relationship, and a woman whose son was a NYC firefighter.
And she can’t get ahold of him.
The actors effortlessly switch between their roles in a series of vignettes, beginning with the planes landing and being held on the tarmac for over a day, and ending with their departures after spending several days in Gander.
The show is dominated by nearly constant music, in a series of vignettes that never last very long. The music itself is mostly upbeat, but not in the typical happy, sing-songy way that you find in other musicals.
It maintains a sense of urgency, but reflects the positivity embraced by the townsfolk as they try to accommodate and console their unexpected visitors. The show is littered with several touching moments, such as when the Muslim man, who everyone is suspicious of gets invited to cook for the hotel guests, to the romance between the American woman and her British crush.
But the dark reality of the situation isn’t ignored. One of the predicaments faced is what to do with all of the animals on board the planes. The animal shelter worker takes action to feed and care for the animals, but not without some losses. And the woman whose son most likely responded to the WTC is left not knowing what happened to him and forms a strong friendship with one of the townsfolk. It’s all so uplifting and heart-wrenching to watch.
The main takeaway from the show is how easy it is for people, no matter who they are, or where they’re from, can come together and support each other in times of tragedy. It makes you wonder why it seems so hard to do these days.
When a crisis strikes, it’s a natural human inclination to put aside our differences and give of ourselves to help each other, no matter what resources or space is available. And as a result, lasting connections are made. Over 20 years later the trauma of the September 11 attacks still holds fast in the fabric of society, but Come From Away is an assurance that the power of human compassion is still a much stronger force.