Come From Away, the musical by David Hein and Irene Sankoff that has just arrived in the West End from Broadway, is based on a true story. During the September 11 attacks, 38 planes were rerouted to Gander, a town in Newfoundland that was formerly a refuelling stop for planes crossing the Atlantic. As a result, the population almost doubled overnight, as strangers from all over the world landed, and the population of Gander gathered to help.
We are introduced to the normal lives of these people, living quietly at the top of the world, their disbelief at turning on the news and seeing the Twin Towers fall, and how they rallied round once they heard that several planes would be arriving. They befriended these strangers, invited them into their homes, cooked meals for them, and introduced them to the ways of the Newfoundlander. This isn’t, as I had feared, a soppy or sentimental tale. Some of those involved find it difficult to get along; not every story has a happy ending. While it has plenty of warmth, the show doesn’t shy away from the nastier side of human nature: while a gay couple is happily accepted by the small town, one of the Muslim passengers is ostracised for his race and faith.
The cast do an excellent job at portraying the large number of characters; there is lots of doubling up, and while it is made clear that lots of people were involved in the events at Gander, the show naturally focuses on a relatively small number. One of my favourites was the trailblazing female pilot, played by Rachel Tucker, whose rendition of “Me and the Sky” was one of the highlights of the evening. I also liked the shy British businessman and the American divorcee who formed a relationship when they met on the plane.
The music is rousing and memorable, with a strong folk influence; I confess the accents meant I couldn’t always understand the lyrics, but I suppose that’s a good reason to buy the cast recording. A simple set surrounded by trees, a number of chairs, and an on-stage band showcased the story.
This is a hugely powerful musical, even more so because it is based on something that really happened. Ultimately it shows that the darkest of times can bring out the best in humanity.