Tony Award Week

Tonys Week: In “Come From Away,” Canadian Empathy Is the Ultimate Unifier

This musical tells the little-told tale of the Canadian town of Gander opening its arms to stranded travelers in the wake of 9/11.

Photo by Matthew Murphy

In these turbulent times, Come From Away is that warm embrace of a musical we’ve been crying out for.

A lot of New Yorkers remember living through 9/11—some of us still vividly recall where we were and what we were doing on that day—so we can’t help but relate it to the current state of affairs. Through all of our painful memories and even present experiences watching the daily onslaught of slightly troubling news, this show above all manages to restore our faith in humanity. You forget about the wars and political struggles we are going through and are reminded that even in the darkest of times, there is a light inside all of us.

come-from-away-musical-2017
Photo by Matthew Murphy

The show takes place a few days after 9/11 in the minuscule town of Gander. Thirty-eight planes were diverted to the northeastern part of Newfoundland, which left 7,000 travelers stranded. The writers, Irene Sankoff and David Hein, interviewed both locals and passengers and created a unique combination of story and music based on their real-life accounts, while the direction of Christopher Ashley (known for his work on the Tony-nominated Memphis) gives this disturbing event an empathetic, positive spin. The actors alternate back and forth, playing both the Gander townies and those stranded across the border. As you witness these characters struggle with being forcefully trapped in the middle of nowhere, you simultaneously witness the locals welcoming these strangers into their homes and making them feel at ease during this tumultuous time.

Throughout the production, I remember having this out-of-body experience in my seat in which I was forced to put myself in the shoes of the Gander residents, as well as those of the passengers and crew. What would I do if I was in that situation? Would I be OK with letting strangers into my home? That sense of personal evaluation during the course of a 100-minute show is something I haven’t experienced in a theater in a very long time. The humanity onstage hit close to home, and you realize while you’re transported to Gander that we essentially have a lot of the same values in our core; an overwhelming sense of unity and benevolence comes out during life’s hardest moments, so it’s only natural to have one another’s backs in times of grief.

come-from-away-musical-2017
Photo by Matthew Murphy