This is the busiest Broadway season for musicals in recent memory. There are 10 new titles debuting there across the year, but Come from Away towers over the rest in terms of originality and daring.
Not based on a pre-existing film or book, it takes its story from a real-life crisis experienced by travellers aboard 38 aeroplanes who were en route to the US on 9/11 – and found themselves suddenly re-routed to the tiny town of Gander in Canada’s Newfoundland when US airspace was summarily closed.
A small community, usually populated by 3,000, suddenly had to take in nearly 7,000 more visitors, where they were forced to spend four days there until the airspace opened again.
The musical personalises and humanises an event that had far bigger repercussions on the world than that of the inconvenience of several thousand air passengers. Amid the tragedy, the human spirit came to the fore.
Musicals are good at creating communities: they herd stories together, held in the embrace of music. Sometimes it’s a shotgun marriage, where the form strains against the content, but here, in this poignant true-life story of instant community building in crisis, there is something bigger: a sense of hope.
Husband and wife writing partners Irene Sankoff and David Hein’s folk-based score has an easy affability and an earnest sincerity. Christopher Ashley’s production gives the show a homespun honesty, and the 12-strong ensemble company, each of whom plays multiple characters, invest it with real feeling and emotion. This is particularly true in the story of a passenger whose son was a New York firefighter, and another passenger of Middle Eastern origin who initially becomes a figure of suspicion to his fellow travellers.