This week is the 20th anniversary of 9/11, a notable anniversary for sure. I was only 6 years old on that day, so I don’t remember the actual event at all. For people my age and younger, it can be hard to even imagine what it was like for the people who do remember -- for those who witnessed it firsthand, or who can remember hearing those first newscasts about it.
For this reason, I believe it’s important to continue listening to these stories -- not just to remember the event itself, but to remember the impact it had on people. There are plenty of stories out there, I’m sure, and one musical manages to capture and present quite a few of them respectfully and in a way that anyone can understand and relate to.
The musical “Come From Away,” written by Irene Sankoff and David Hein, tells the story of the small town of Gander, Newfoundland. In the week following the Sept. 11 attacks, 38 planes and 7,000 passengers were forced to stay at the small town due to American airspace being closed. The musical focuses on telling the stories of several real-life Gander residents and travelers, as well as some fictional residents and travelers inspired by the research Sankoff and Hein did on the groups.
I only learned of this show recently. My best friend had already seen it several times on YouTube, and had mentioned listening to the soundtrack. I was curious, and after she told me a bit about the plot, I sought out the musical myself -- and I have to say that as a musical, it’s absolutely amazing.
Its cast is one of only about a dozen performers, with many of the actors playing multiple roles, yet you barely notice the character swapping. The set is also incredibly simple, using mostly tables and chairs in creative ways to portray things like planes and buses. The songs, naturally, are fantastic with tracks like "Welcome to the Rock" and “28 Hours/Wherever We Are” easily getting stuck in your head. The show also does a great job of balancing the comedy with the heavy stuff, keeping things engaging and poignant without being disrespectful or too depressing.
But the thing that makes this musical truly special is, of course, the story. We’re shown throughout the musical how, even during one of the most stressful and scariest moments in modern history, the people of Gander managed to do all they could to help these 7,000 travelers (and 19 animals).
One of my favorite scenes is after the travelers are taken to the emergency shelters and are obviously scared, confused and not completely trusting. They even mistake the volunteers’ Salvation Army uniforms for actual military uniforms. One of the volunteers tries to communicate one of the non-English travelers, and manages to do so through a bible verse that they both know: Philippians Chapter 4, Verse 6 “Be anxious for nothing.”
Another great but hard-hitting moment is when real-life trailblazing pilot, Beverley Bass, gets a solo song where she reflects on her feelings as a pilot and how these feelings are changed, now that she’s seen a plane be used as a weapon in such an awful tragedy. There are other small stories and arcs too, like a worried passenger and a Newfoundlander forming a friendship through understanding, as both of their sons are firefighters. Two other passengers end up forming a romance with each other while another passenger goes from thinking the small town folk are going to rob him to feeling completely at home in Gander.
The theme of the musical is connections can be made during the hardest and darkest times. You feel the camaraderie between all of these characters, with these bonds managing to form despite the odds or the differences they may have with each other.
Frankly, the fact that a lot of these stories and scenes found within the musical actually happened just makes it all the more amazing.
“Come From Away” is just one of those shows that manages to capture the human spirit perfectly, and watching it just makes you feel a bit more hopeful.
I think we all need that reminder that even when it seems like most of the world is fighting and trying to hurt each other, there are still many others that are trying to do good and help.
A pro-show recording of “Come From Away” will premiere on Apple TV+ this Friday while the soundtrack can already be found on YouTube, and I highly recommend checking it out if you haven’t already.