‘Come From Away’ is a riveting and fast-paced musical about humanity and altruism

By Beth Mack

March 11, 2023

Photo: Matthew Murphy

September 11, 2001 was a gut-wrenching day in America with reverberations felt around the globe. Everyone knows about the tragic events that day in New York City, Washington D.C., and western Pennsylvania, but less is known about what transpired in Gander, Newfoundland. Thanks to playwrights Irene Sankoff and David Hein, Come From Away, shares that story in a fast-paced 100-minute musical.

The North American tour of ‘Come From Away’ in Charlotte at Belk Theater March 7-12. Photo: Matthew Murphy

Located on the Canadian island of Newfoundland, the small town of Gander with a population of 9,000 is the backdrop for the based-on-true-events musical. The play picks up on the morning of September 11, which starts like any other day for the townspeople of Gander. Mayor Claude (Kevin Carolan), is at the local Tim Hortons enjoying a Pepsi and conversing with his constituents about the local bus union on strike. As news breaks about the attacks, the United States closes its airspace for the first time in history, leaving planes to be diverted all over the world. Shortly after, images of the World Trade Center towers collapsing appear on television screens and the small Gander International Airport is notified that they will be receiving 38 planes and nearly 7,000 passengers. Hilarity ensues as people from the town jump into action and prepare for the arrival of the travelers who hail from all over the world– different races, cultures, religions, languages, ages, medical conditions, dietary needs, and even pets. In the flurry, local television news reporter Janice (Julia Knitel), reports on the turn of events and how the community can help on her first day on the job.  

Photo: Matthew Murphy

In between scenes of the townspeople preparing for the arrival, the audience experiences what it was like for those passengers who were stuck in the air for hours during the aftermath of the attacks. At a time when cell phones and in-flight Wi-Fi were not as widely used, passengers had no idea what was happening in the outside world and flight crews did as much as possible to keep people entertained.

After countless hours stuck on a plane, the passengers land in the middle of the night in remote Gander to various impromptu shelters in the area. This is when they first see the images of the chaos and reality sinks in. Thousands of miles from home, surrounded by complete strangers, they have no idea when they can go home. As passengers grapple with this and try to get in contact with loved ones, the Gander community led by Beulah (Julie Johnson) and Mayor Claude go above and beyond in opening up their hearts and homes over the next five days. As air travel resumes and the once-stranded passengers leave, we see how, in tragic situations, the impact of kindness can form deep bonds and relationships. As Mayor Claude rallies around the town after the last plane leaves, he proclaims, “Tonight we honor what was lost, but we also commemorate what we found.”

Photo: Matthew Murphy

Come From Away is a riveting show. Each cast member plays multiple characters flawlessly with the literal switch of a hat and accent. Through the use of intricately choreographed movements of cast members and props, audience members are seamlessly transported into an array of scenes ranging from the inside of an airplane to a local pub in Gander despite the set never changing.   

The fast-paced musical about humanity and altruism has no intermission but keeps the audience engaged throughout its entirety in order to properly deliver its message that connection and kinship can come out of tragedy. 

The award-winning musical, Come From Away, will play in Charlotte at Belk Theater from March 7-12

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