Canadians Thrilled With Reaction To Musical 'Come From Away'


David Hein and Irene Sankoff thought the idea was far-fetched when it was first suggested they write a musical about what happened after 9/11 when 38 planes that were in the air were diverted to Gander, Newfoundland, population 11,000.

But as they visited the town and talked to the locals who welcomed the nearly 7,000 passengers into their homes, they saw the potential in the uplifting story. The result was Come From Away, a surprise smash that two years later is still playing to capacity crowds on Broadway. The national tour comes to The Bushnell in Hartford from April 30 to May 5. One of the producers is Sue Frost, an Old Lyme resident and Tony Award winner.

“We weren’t sure if it should be a musical or whether it should be a play like The Laramie Project,” says Hein, who, with Sankoff, wrote the book, music and lyrics. “But as we were interviewing the people from Gander, they’d often pull out their mandolins, fiddles or accordions. Music is a way these people deal with the hardship of living on this giant rock in the ocean where there are terrible winters. We also realized that it was a kind of music that Broadway had never heard before.”

Sankoff adds: “The hardest part was trying to fit in all of the stories we wanted to. That’s how we ended up amalgamating characters and story lines.”

Audiences reacted with waves of affection and the show became a word-of-mouth sensation. “We never expected any of this,” Hein says. “When we started, we figured this was a show that Canadian high schools would be forced to do. So for each step of the way we were excited: from a reading at Goodspeed to La Jolla Playhouse to Seattle Rep. We weren’t sure it was ever going to Broadway. After all, it has no stars, it’s an ensemble piece with a title no one can remember. And everyone is going to call it the 9/11 musical even though it’s a 9/12 story about the way a small community responded to a tragedy. It’s so life affirming, and especially needed now when our social media is so filled with divisive anger and fear. We get to tell a story of people coming together.”