Great New Musical “Come From Away” — Welcome to NewFriendLand

A new hit musical is born! (After years of development, of course.)

La Jolla Playhouse

La Jolla Playhouse

Come From Away – A contemporary musical that celebrates the good in mankind, this is the true story — or many stories — about 38 planes filled with people from around the world, ordered to land on a rocky island in Newfoundland, Canada when the U.S. closed its air space on 9/11,  and the people of the city of Gander who found a way to accommodate them with a rare and warm generosity of spirit. Showcased in a through-line of the planes landing and the locals finding a way to welcome, feed and shelter thousands of people and seeing them safely off five days later, is a series of vignettes — telling stories of individuals —  including a pilot of one of the planes, a gay couple reacting to Gander in different ways, a mother of a New York firefighter longing for contact or information, a can-do local Mayor, an animal lover worried about the animals that might be on those planes, a man and a woman possibly finding each other amidst chaos.

I fell in love with this show when I saw a 45 minute version of it at the 2013 NAMT Festival of New Musicals in New York.   The National Alliance for Musical Theatre accepts just nine shows (out of two hundred plus applicants) and Come From Away was already fairly mature and one of the clear Festival favorites that year.

Irene Sankoff and David Hein, creators (Book, Music & Lyrics) of "Come From Away"

Irene Sankoff and David Hein, creators (Book, Music & Lyrics) of “Come From Away”

After the NAMT presentation, creators David Hein and Irene Sankoff were immediately mobbed by enthusiastic producers, theatre professionals and fans. (Including me, asking for a phone interview, which was graciously granted.)  Two years later, the show is fully baked and, I believe, on its way to becoming beloved by millions.

I just saw a preview of the world premiere production of Come From Away at the La Jolla Playhouse, directed by Christopher Ashley, official opening June 11, 2015 for an already extended run through July 12, to be followed by a run at Seattle Repertory Theatre November 13 – December 13, 2015.  And then, I presume, on to New York.

Jenn Colella (left) and the cast of La Jolla Playhouse’s world-premiere musical COME FROM AWAY; photo by Kevin Berne

Jenn Colella (left) and the cast of La Jolla Playhouse’s world-premiere musical COME FROM AWAY; photo by Kevin Berne

 

I had the opportunity to speak by telephone with the writers, David Hein and Irene Sankoff in 2013 and again a few months ago regarding the development of the show.  They told me they were living at International House in New York on 9/11 and it was important to them to make sure to get the backstory right.  Someone suggested they consider writing the Gander story and David and Irene were interested and started research.  They traveled to Newfoundland for a month on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and were struck by the friendly, easy way the locals treated them.  A large part of the research was done during this trip when many of the “plane people” returned to Gander to celebrate the anniversary. They gathered so much material and so many stories during this trip  that the biggest challenge may have been the curatorial choices. David said “there were over 7000 passengers who landed there and 9000 people in Gander; that’s a lot of stories.”

They weren’t sure it was a musical at first but the more they researched the more inspired they became to write songs.  David has long studied and listened to and loved  east coat/Newfoundland music which underlies the contemporary music in Come From Away  —  a touch of folk, sea shanty, a pinch of Irish and English.

One of the things that made the true Gander stories so special, and that comes through in the musical, is the natural and genuine goodheartedness of the people there.  From a Huffington Post article at the time of the 10-year reunion:  ”Many Newfoundlanders wonder what all the fuss is about. On a tiny island in the fierce North Atlantic, being a good neighbour was often a matter of survival.  ”For the best part, we are very giving people and we tend to help each other without thinking twice,” said Gander volunteer Beulah Cooper, 70.”

Gandor Airport. 9/2011 AP.

Gander Airport. AP.

Irene told me that all the stories in Come From Away are basically true, although some are amalgamations or are from their own time there —  being “screeched in” and kissing the cod was Irene’s own experience in a Gander bar.

rehearsal photo of Chad Kimball about to "kiss the cod"; photo by Hayne Palmour IV

La Jolla Playhouse rehearsal — Chad Kimball about to “kiss the cod”; photo by Hayne Palmour IV, S.D. Union Tribune

 

A great balance of sad and sweet, this is ultimately a feel good musical with great heart, great music and a memorable story.  Find an opportunity to see this one.

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