by Mary Jo
One of the great pleasures of going to a conference in NYC is the opportunity to go to a Broadway show, by which I mean something generally fun and upbeat, with music. (Past choices have included HAIRSPRAY, BILLY ELLIOTT, and SOMETHING ROTTEN, all wonderful in different ways.)
Since Pat Rice and I were rooming together, we looked at what was currently available and she suggested the Canadian musical, Come From Away which she'd seen in California and was willing to see again, which was high praise. I wasn't familiar with the show, but she said it was about the Newfoundlanders who took in the passengers and crews of 38 airplanes that were diverted to Gander airport after 9/11.
I'd heard in general how amazingly hospitable the Newfoundlanders were, so I watched clip of the show's opening number, and immediately said YES!
This was one of my better decisions. <G> Come From Away is moving, entertaining, and sometimes wildly funny. It was also brilliant showmanship, with only twelve actors, six men, six women, very diverse in age and race. The set was a plain stage with tables and chairs which could be swiftly moved around and magically transform into a plane full of passengers, a bus carrying people through the night to unknown destinations, to legion halls filled with plane people and the Newfoundlanders working to provide food, accommodations, and comfort.
Pat told me there were no intermissions, which concerned me a little, so I made sure to book us two seats on an aisle. (In fact, there wasn't a problem–the show was a fast 100 minutes so there was no need to visit the facilities.)
The show started with a song called "Welcome to the Rock" which explained Newfoundland and what happened on that unforgettable day. All twelve cast members were terrific (and VERY athletic) as they transformed themselves into multiple different characters with no more than simple costume changes
One of my favorites was Jenn Colella, who among other roles played Beverley Bass, "Captain Bev," who was flying one of the airplanes diverted to Gander. She sings an amazing power ballad called "Me and the Sky" about a little girl who dreamed of flying, was told to forget it, and who through talent and determination became the first female American Airlines captain. (True story! Beverley Bass is a legend.)
My favorite male actor was a tall, handsome African American named De'Lon Grant who played roles as diverse as a guy from Newark who was nervous that he'd be shot when he was told to collect backyard grills for a neighborhood barbecue–and instead every single household invited him in for a cup of tea. <G> He was also a macho, sunglasses-wearing air force officer who swaggered onto the stage looking so incredibly handsome and sexy that his local female liaison (and the female half of the audience!) totally melted. <G>
Some of the characters were actual people in Gander and on the planes, others were composites created to show the range of people affected. They were so specific that I went looking for a book, and found The Day the World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland by Jim DeFede. .
DeFede is a journalist who spent a lengthy period of time in Newfoundland interviewing people abut their experiences, and the book includes photos of some of those he talks about. I believe it was published on the first anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy, and it's a wonderful and highly readable account of those four unforgettable days.
Everything about our Broadway evening was memorable, including the usher who seated us. She said she'd watched virtually every show since the previews began, and she was moved every time. She also said ten of the original actors were still in the cast because of their deep commitment to the material.
The "plane people" voluntarily contributed money as a thank you, and the total was many thousands of dollars and several foundation grants to help local institutions. Many of the passengers returned to Gander for a ten year reunion.
Next week will be the 18th anniversary of 9/11. It was the sort of lightning bolt event where everyone remembers what they were doing when they heard the news. Remembering those who died is a solemn duty, but it's also worth remembering the warmth and kindness that flowered in the wake of disaster.
So if you get a chance to see Come from Away, you might want to grab it. Or read The Day the World Came to Town. Or send grateful thoughts to the Newfoundlanders who opened their homes and hearts to the travelers marooned far from home, and all the other acts of special grace that occurred in those difficult days.
Mary Jo, adding that the show's Newfoundlander music was wonderful