Broadway Alaska presents ‘Come From Away’

Downtown’s Atwood Concert Hall was packed on the night of Nov. 30 for the live performance of the equally heartwarming and heart wrenching musical “Come From Away.”

A "Come From Away" poster sits in the lobby of the Atwood Concert Hall. Photo by Kyle Ivacic.

“Come From Away” is a Broadway musical that details the true events that took place in the aftermath of 9/11. Following the closure of U.S. airspace, 38 planes carrying thousands of people made an emergency descent on the small town of Gander, Newfoundland.

Gander’s position on Canada’s east coast made it a popular refueling point for mid-twentieth century airplanes crossing the Atlantic. By the 1950s, it had become one of the busiest international airports in the world and had a footprint much larger than its small population would suggest.

The airport’s passenger numbers decreased rapidly after the advent of planes that could cross the Atlantic without need to refuel before continuing to a final destination. Even so, Gander’s oversized airport was never demolished – a fact that proved critical to grounded trans-Atlantic flights on that fateful day in September 2001.

Deboarding took hours as Canadian authorities had to make the determination – based on information coming from the U.S. – that nobody on board the planes posed a terroristic threat.

Once off the planes, passengers were welcomed by the residents of Gander, who came together to provide accommodation, including food and shelter to the thousands of unexpected guests.

The musical began with humorous greetings between Gander residents, greeting each other  in thick Newfoundland accents, one by one surrounding a table, each talking over the other to form an excitable morning conversation in a Tim Horton’s cafe.

The humor of the musical overlies some of the most heart wrenching story telling. The lights changed and the cast maneuvered through the dark with precision as they changed the scene to that of airplane passengers in flight.

Each passenger sat silently as the pilot’s voice on the plane's intercom said that, due to a situation in the United States, they would be landing shortly in Gander, Newfoundland. Passengers sat exhausted on planes for hours, worried and unable to contact loved ones.

The confusion and exhaustion of the passengers onboard soon led to fear and the need for answers.

Still not fully unaware of what had transpired in New York and Washington D.C., many rushed the available phones in the Gander airport to speak with loved ones and get news.

They were able to talk to their children and parents. The music began a sorrowful tune when one character attempted to contact her son who is a firefighter in New York City. Her attempts to contact her son form a subplot throughout the story.

The townspeople of Gander prepared shelters and offered up guest rooms for passengers to sleep in for the night, which soon became nearly a week.

Operating out of an elementary school, volunteers were able to prepare enough meals and supplies to make their guests comfortable.

Part of the musical involved the Mayor of Gander telling someone to “steal” all of the grills in the area so people could have food to eat. The grill owners eventually spot the thief but offer the grills anyway.

Animals were also on board the planes, including cats, dogs and a pregnant Chimpanzee named Unga. Veterinarians in Gander took care of the animals during their unexpected visit to Newfoundland.

During the stay, Unga gave birth to the first-ever chimpanzee to be born in the Canadian Province of Nefowndland and Labrador. Although the baby died after birth, Unga’s next baby – born in Ohio – was named Gander in memory of the welcome the chimp’s mother received while in Canada.

These examples are a few of the many acts of kindness that were exhibited by the people in the town of Gander on 9/11.

The music was lively and each beat was felt in the chest of the audience. Although the musical serves as a saddening reminder of what happened that day, the overall message was uplifting.

The performance ended in a standing ovation as the crowd clapped and cheered while the actors took their bows. Musicians took the stage and danced while playing traditional music from Newfoundland as the audience clapped along to their beat – ending again with loud praise from the audience.

The production kept the playgoers entertained and fascinated throughout its entirety. “Come From Away” runs until Dec. 10 and tickets are available for purchase online through CenterTix.

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