A exterior view of the Palace Theatre at the opening night of 'West Side Story' on Broadway at the Palace Theatre.

‘Come From Away’ Debuts On Broadway, Earns Rave Reviews

Come From Away made its Broadway debut at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre on Sunday night. The musical, written by Irene Sankoff and David Hein, is set in the small Canadian town of Gander, Newfoundland, in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

In the musical, the people of Gander open their hearts and homes to Americans and other travelers who are forced to stay in the town when 38 passenger jets are diverted to the local airport after the terrorist attacks, leaving nearly 7,000 people stranded there. It’s a simultaneously heartbreaking and inspirational tale that pits the human capacity for love and empathy against the compulsion for hatred and violence.

“The lump that forms in your throat in the opening minutes of Come From Away — and remains lodged there for 100 buoyant minutes more — is the physiological confirmation that this effervescent musical, enveloped in Canadian good will, is an antidote for what ails the American soul,” Peter Marks writes in a review for the Washington Post.

The kindness and generosity of the people of Gander is what stands out the most about Come From Away.

“Most people want to believe they’re capable of taking in stricken strangers, so just as anyone who’s flown can easily project themselves into the roles of the stranded travelers, we also like to imagine we’d be as welcoming in a crisis as the people of Gander,” Marks concludes.

“That’s why this musical is so suited to this particular moment. Not as a mournful reminder of who we all might have been for one another, but who we are all meant to be.”

Irene Sankoff and David Hein, who are married to each other, have been involved in theater since performing in high school plays. They previously collaborated on the musical My Mother’s Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding, among other projects.

Christopher Ashley is directing the Broadway production of Come From Away, and he has gathered “a dozen superbly cast actors” to perform in the musical, in Marks’ opinion.

Marks was so impressed by Come From Away that he believes it will join Dear Evan Hansen and Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 in the race for this year’s Tony award.

The New York Times‘ Ben Brantley shared Marks’ enthusiasm for Come From Away.

“Try, if you must, to resist the gale of good will that blows out of Come From Away, the big bearhug of a musical that opened on Sunday night at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater,” Brantley begins, “But even the most stalwart cynics may have trouble staying dry-eyed during this portrait of heroic hospitality under extraordinary pressure.”

Brantley also praises Ashley’s direction and the performance of the cast, as well as the set design of Beowulf Boritt.

The 12-member ensemble cast, Brantley notes, is required to portray both the stranded passengers and the people of Gander at different times, speaking and singing lines and sometimes switching back and forth from a Canadian accent to an American accent.

“Mr. Ashley and his musical staging director, Kelly Devine, have steered their multicast, 12-member ensemble through a rushing, sung-and-spoken narrative that has them changing parts (and accents) on a Canadian dime,” Brantley writes.

Brantley also points out that while the show may seem at first glance from a cynic’s eye to be a superficial display of naive feel-goodery, there is a subtle and gritty realism to it.

“Are there moments that feel a little too heartwarming, like a rustic Canadian bar’s reflexive acceptance of a gay couple (Mr. Kimball and Caesar Samayoa) who nervously wander in?” Brantley rhetorically asks.

“Sure. But the show also makes room for lingering prejudices — most notably regarding Muslims — and the sense that the altruism that arises in a crisis may evaporate as soon as the crisis is over.”

[Featured Image by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images]

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