Come From Away

The remarkable true story of the small town that welcomed the world.

Come From Away
Comedy Theatre

Theatre Address

240 Exhibition St, Melbourne VIC 3000

The Smash-Hit Broadway Musical Come From Away Is Coming to Sydney

By Jane Albert
 Broadsheet. 

It’s based on the remarkable true story of a tiny-but-mighty town off the east coast of Canada that embraced thousands of stranded passengers on September 11.

There are three surprising things about the hit musical Come From Away. The first is the event that’s the catalyst for the whole storyline: September 11. The second thing (that surprised this cynical musical-theatregoer, at least): it’s a celebration of kindness – an unusual theme for any work of art. (That said, as Australia reels from catastrophic bushfires and coronavirus panic, who doesn’t need a little kindness?) And the third surprising thing? It’s all based on a true story.

This is anything but your typical musical.

Come From Away was a surprise Broadway smash in 2017. Subsequent productions have all been hugely successful too – and it’s coming to Sydney in August. It tells the story of the unforgettable day in 2001 when 38 planes – and 7000 passengers – were diverted to Gander, a small town on the island of Newfoundland, off the coast of Canada, after the US government shut down all American airspace and diverted all planes.

The bewildered travellers were grounded indefinitely and suddenly, and the island’s population almost doubled in just a few hours. Without exception, the locals opened their doors to the visitors, who they called the “Come From Aways”: housing them, feeding them, sharing their clothes and toys, and even inducting some as honorary Ganderites. Lifelong friendships were formed. Relationships began, while others ended.

In 2011, a ceremony was held on Gander reuniting some of the visitors and their hosts. When Canadian musical-theatre duo Irene Sankoff and David Hein heard about the reunion, they were fascinated. The couple – who also wrote the musical My Mother’s Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding, based on Hein’s family – began to do some research, and, after securing a grant from the Canadian government, flew to Gander for a three-week stay.

“We ended up staying longer because no one would let us pay for hotels; they kept saying, ‘Stay with us’, and would literally give us their house, and fed us nonstop,” says Hein. “We saw the same generosity the Come From Aways did 10 years ago.”

The couple recorded hundreds of interviews with the willing townspeople and returned home to New York City armed with newspaper cuttings, thousands of hours of tape and letters passengers had sent back to Gander. They were convinced they had the makings of a stage show.

They also knew it had to be a musical. “There’s something in the DNA of Newfoundlanders – maybe it’s the terrible winters when they have nothing to do, but they all play three instruments and keep warm by going to each other’s kitchens and having a party and singing songs,” says Hein. “It’s how they’ve learnt to survive.”

The couple’s enthusiasm for the story wasn’t universally shared, though. Five writing teams declined to explore the project, convinced the idea was a terrible one. Sankoff and Hein were told it had three fatal flaws: it wasn’t a one-star vehicle (it’s an ensemble of 12 actors, each performing multiple roles); it had a name no one would remember; and since it was referred to as “the 9/11 musical”, it wasn’t exactly a crowd-puller.

But the duo had been in New York during September 11 and its aftermath, and had been buoyed by the intense community support they’d experienced. They knew this was a story that had to be told.

After a positive response following a workshop in Washington DC (particularly from those affected by September 11) and tryouts in Canada and the US in 2015 and 2016, Come From Away opened on Broadway in 2017 to near-universal acclaim. Ben Brantley of The New York Times gave it a rave review. It went on to win multiple Tony and Olivier awards from its Broadway and West End seasons respectively.

“It was really important we got it right for the 9/11 community. One lady who’d lost a family member in the Pentagon was deeply concerned about the show,” says Sankoff. “Afterwards she said it was a tribute to the people who were lost and gave her some hope there was still good in the world.”

Part of the show’s success is that it’s not saccharine. It doesn’t shy away from the horror. Some passengers did ultimately learn family members had been killed – and a sobering sense of fear and grief takes centre stage at several points in Come From Away. The show also explores the racism and xenophobia that proliferated against Muslims and people from the Middle East after the attacks.

But ultimately, a message of hope, cross-cultural understanding and togetherness prevails. And we need that as much now as we did back then.

Hein and Sankoff will be travelling to Sydney for the opening, along with some of the real Ganderites and characters portrayed in the show. “Beverley has seen it more than 200 times, Nick and Diane around 150,” says Sankoff, referring to a few of the key characters. “Every time we have a new opening the real people come. It’s been such a joy to give them this reason to reunite, and we’re looking forward to seeing them all again in Sydney.”

Broadway’s hit 9/11 musical is coming to Sydney at the perfect time

By Ben Neutze
 Time Out. 

Every time there’s an enormous tragedy – when a large loss of life reverberates loudly around the world – stories of humans responding to extreme circumstances flow thick and fast. Some are horrifying, but we all know that there are others that are affirming. To look for acts of kindness and generosity is about the best many of us can do in times of crisis.

One of those affirming stories unfolded in Gander, Newfoundland in the days after the September 11 attacks. The punishingly cold Canadian town had a population of around 9,000 at the time, but when planes were suddenly grounded at the town’s airport following the attacks, 7,000 strangers found themselves stranded for up to six days. But instead of reacting to those strangers with fear or suspicion – and it was a time of enormous fear around the world – the locals warmly embraced them and welcomed them into their homes.

Canadian musical theatre writers Irene Sankoff and David Hein were intrigued by this story and in 2011 – on the tenth anniversary of the attacks – visited Gander to interview both locals and returning passengers about their experiences.

“We didn’t know what we were looking for when we went out there, and most people there doing interviews were press, looking for the quick soundbites,” Sankoff says. “We just started talking to people, going to their houses for dinner, and getting invited to spend the night there. We fell in love with them and what they did; and how brave it was to not keep 7,000 people trapped on planes, hungry, angry and scared – to bring them off the planes and into their community and buildings.”

The husband and wife pair then started crafting those stories into a musical, doing their best to honour all they’d been told. And unlike many musicals based on real events – which can play fast and loose with the facts – Sankoff and Hein wanted to make the truth as compelling as possible.

As a result, the first draft was more than five hours long, but after whittling those stories down (unfortunately an extended bit about air traffic controllers making chilli for the locals while planes were grounded was cut down to a single line) they premiered the musical in 2012 at an Ontario college.

“We were pretty sure we’d have a good future with high schools and colleges being forced to do it, because of the Canadian content,” Sankoff says.

Neither expected that the show – which spoke to a pivotal New York story from a different perspective – would go on to have a Broadway season in 2017, let alone London, Melbourne and Sydney seasons. In October 2018 it surpassed The Drowsy Chaperone to become Broadway’s longest-running Canadian show, and it’s still going strong.

But the phenomenon of the show extends beyond the material itself – the individuals about whom the show was written attend opening nights and are invested in the show’s success. One is Beverley Bass, who was the first female captain of an American Airlines plane and whose plane was diverted to Gander. She’s come to see the show more than 100 times and became friends with Jenn Colella, who plays her on Broadway.

“It’s such a unique gift, as playwrights, to have the characters in your show come to your show, and also cheer you on on social media, and write to you constantly, and write to the actors,” Hein says.

The Australian cast even received letters from the real-life people they’re portraying long before rehearsals commenced. But all of them play multiple characters in the fast-moving production, which is driven by the music native to Newfoundland; a Celtic-inspired folk-rock fusion that Hein grew up with, featuring fiddles, accordions and a driving hand drum called the bodhrán.

“It’s music that you’ve never heard on a Broadway stage or a musical theatre stage,” Hein says. “It’s this traditional music that comes about from how hard it is living on this rock with these terrible winters, and in response to that, they’ve created this music that compels you to jump up and dance. It’s like affirming life in response to the hardships of life.”

That makes the music, in a way, the perfect vehicle for this story about people responding to an enormously difficult challenge. The piece itself – which reminds of the importance of welcoming outsiders and giving to people in need – has taken on new resonances in the age of Brexit, Trump and Australia’s own border policies. It’s not difficult to imagine how such a story might speak to Australian audiences.

“We didn’t have a crystal ball, and we couldn’t have known,” Sankoff says. “We really thought we were writing a period piece to begin with, about something that happened a long time ago, that we thought had more or less resolved by now – which was naive and not quite the case.”

Hein hopes that the story of kindness and generosity can stand as an example for not only how we should respond to crisis, but how we should treat one another every day.

“Right now it feels almost necessary to have a story about people coming together and finding commonalities and bridging the things that break us apart.”

‘It doesn’t focus on tragedy’: September 11 musical tells Sydney a story of kindness

By Louise Rugendyke
 The Sydney Morning Herald. 

A musical born from tragedy that has become an unexpected worldwide hit will finally make its long-awaited Sydney debut, after a record-breaking run in Melbourne.

Come From Away is the story of Gander, a small town on the island of Newfoundland off the east coast of Canada, which unexpectedly became home to 38 wide-bodied jets and about 6579 air crew and passengers when all US-bound flights were grounded after the September 11 terror attacks in New York.

Zoe Gertz stars as American Airlines pilot Beverley Bass in the musical Come From Away.
Zoe Gertz stars as American Airlines pilot Beverley Bass in the musical Come From Away.CREDIT:SIMON SCHLUTER

With very little notice, the townsfolk rallied over five days, cooking food, setting up sleeping quarters, offering their homes to strangers and donating so much toilet paper an urgent request was made for them to stop.

It’s not an obvious choice for a musical, with terrorism and thick Newfoundland accents being natural bars to a jolly night at the theatre, but with its message of kindness – the opening of arms to the “come from aways” – the musical has found runaway success. It was a sleeper hit on Broadway, picking up the Tony Award in New York for best direction of a musical in 2017, while the London production won an Olivier Award for best new musical in 2019.

“It doesn’t focus on the tragedy of that day,” says actor Zoe Gertz, who plays Beverly Bass, an American Airlines captain whose flight from Paris to Texas was diverted to Gander on that fateful day. “It focuses on the message that out of tragedy, human beings want to help each other, that it can inspire great generosity and kindness from one another.”

That message of generosity has had an immediate spillover effect on the Melbourne production, which has become the most successful show ever staged at the 92-year-old Comedy Theatre since the musical opened in July last year.

“A couple of weeks ago we did a bucket collection for the bushfires – all of the theatres in Melbourne did,” says Gertz. “Our theatre only holds 1000 people, but we easily collected the most money because the show makes people want to do good. I’ve never seen generosity like it. I had to call the company manager over because I had to empty my bucket twice. It was overflowing.”

The real-life Beverley Bass, who was hired by American Airlines in 1976 as their third female pilot.
The real-life Beverley Bass, who was hired by American Airlines in 1976 as their third female pilot.

The show came about after writers David Hein and Irene Sankoff visited Gander on the 10th anniversary of the terror attacks and began interviewing the townspeople and some of the passengers and crew who had returned for a reunion. Of all the personal stories in the show, the one that stands out is that of Bass, who was not only the third woman to become a pilot with American Airlines, but their first female captain.

Her determination to become a pilot and her struggles in overcoming sexist attitudes is captured perfectly in the song Me In the Sky – “But the World War II pilots, they all complained. They said, ‘girls shouldn’t be in the cockpit'” – which Gertz had the spine-tingling pleasure of singing to an audience of woman pilots, which included the real-life Bass, at an international conference in Sydney.

“I had a realisation in the middle of the song, and I’m looking out at all these women, and I thought, ‘This is your song. This is your story as well’,” says Gertz. “This isn’t just Beverley’s story, it’s all of your stories. The idea of what you’ve had to push through in a very male-dominated industry. They were emotional and then I had to do everything I could to fight back tears.”

Before the show opens in Sydney in August, the cast are travelling to China in April for a tour and, despite the threat of the coronavirus, Gertz says there are no plans to postpone the trip.

“At the moment, we’re assuming by then everything will be fine,” she says. “We’re being kept in the loop by our Australian and Chinese producers and I have no doubt they will not send us over if there’s any kind of risk.”

Hit Tony Award-Winning Musical ‘Come From Away’ Is Coming to Sydney

By Sarah Ward
 Concrete Playground. 

Already an enormous success on Broadway, in London’s West End and in Melbourne, Tony and Olivier award-winning musical Come From Away is finally bringing its remarkable true tale to Sydney. Based on real post-September 11 events, the acclaimed production will land at the State Theatre for a season of kind-hearted charm, kicking off in August this year.

If you aren’t familiar with the musical’s plot, or the actual events that inspired it, it’s quite the exceptional story. In the week after the September 11 attacks in 2001, 38 planes were unexpectedly ordered to land in the small Canadian town of Gander, in the province of Newfoundland. Part of Operation Yellow Ribbon — which diverted civilian air traffic to Canada en masse following the attacks — the move saw around 7000 air travellers grounded in the tiny spot, almost doubling its population. Usually, the town is home to just under 12,000 residents.

To create Come From Away, writers and composers Irene Sankoff and David Hein spent hundreds of hours interviewing thousands of locals and passengers, using their experiences to drive the narrative — and, in many cases, using their real names in the show as well. The result is a musical not just about people coming from away (the term that Newfoundlanders use to refer to folks not born on the island), but coming together, all at a time when tensions were running high worldwide.

Since being workshopped in 2012, having a run in Ontario in 2013, then officially premiering in San Diego in 2015, Come From Away has become a global smash hit. After opening on Broadway in 2017, it’s still running today. The musical has been wowing crowds in the West End for the past year, too — and, since opening in Melbourne in July 2019, it has become the Comedy Theatre’s most successful musical in the venue’s 91-year history.

Along the way, the show has picked up a Tony Award for best direction of a musical, six other nominations, and four Olivier Awards out of nine nominations.

Check out a clip from the Melbourne production below:

Images: Jeff Busby.

HIT MUSICAL COME FROM AWAY DOMINATES 2020 GREEN ROOM NOMINATIONS WITH 11, INCLUDING BEST PRODUCTION

International success story, COME FROM AWAY continues to attract accolades around the world, after today receiving the most nominations in the 2020 Green Room Awards.

COME FROM AWAY  is nominated for the Ensemble Award, along with the Production Award. Christopher Ashley is nominated for the Direction Award; Kelly Devine for Excellence in Choreography; Howell Binkley for the Lighting Design Award; Toni Leslie James forthe Costume Design Award; Beowulf Boritt forthe Set Design Award; Gareth Owen for the Sound Design Award and Luke Hunter for the  Musical Direction Award for his Body of Work which includes his work on COME FROM AWAY and Jersey Boys. Cast membersRichard Piper and Zoe Gertz are also nominated for Lead roles.

The Green Room Awards panel assessed 340 shows for the 2020 awards, with COME FROM AWAY  leading the charge with eleven nominations. The 2020 winners will be announced at a ceremony on Monday 30 March in Melbourne.

COME FROM AWAY has won numerous international awards including the Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical (Christopher Ashley); five Outer Critics Circle Awards (New York) including Outstanding New Broadway Musical; three Drama Desk Awards (New York) including Outstanding Musical, four Helen Hayes Awards (Washington, D.C) including Outstanding Production of a Musical, four Gypsy Rose Lee Awards (Seattle) including Excellence in production of a Musical and six San Diego Critics Circle Awards including Outstanding New Musical.

In addition, it received four Olivier Awards including Best New Musical, Best Theatre Choreographer, Best Sound Design and Outstanding Achievement in Music, and recently won Broadway World UK awards. In Australia, it has won the Ticketmaster ‘Ticket of the Year’ award for 2019, and recently took out the Drama Victoria award for Best Performance by a Theatre Company.

The critically acclaimed production, which opened in Melbourne in July 2019, continues to attract spontaneous standing ovations from the entire audience at each and every performance.

Currently there are five productions of COME FROM AWAY playing simultaneously around the world. The first production opened on Broadway to rave reviews in 2017 and has continued its record-breaking triumph with a second production in Toronto approaching its third year, a third production touring North America, now in its second year, and a West End production that opened in February earlier this year. The Australian production in Melbourne marks the fifth company.

The ground-breaking new musical is based on the incredible real-life events in the wake of the September 11 tragedy when 38 planes carrying nearly 7,000 people from over 100 countries were redirected to Gander, Newfoundland, almost doubling the population of the remote Canadian town.

Capturing the generosity and hospitality of the small community of Gander who invited the “come from aways” into their homes, it is an inspirational story of hope and humanity.

With book, music and lyrics by David Hein and Irene Sankoff, COME FROM AWAY is directed by Tony Award winner Christopher Ashley, choreographed by Kelly Devine (Rock of Ages, Diana), with music supervision by Ian Eisendrath (A Christmas Story, Diana), scenic design by Beowulf Boritt (Rock of Ages, Be More Chill)  costume design by Toni-Leslie James (Jelly’s Last Jam), lighting design by Howell Binkley (Jersey Boys, Hamilton), sound design by Gareth Owen (Diana, A Bronx Tale).

DUE TO UNPRECEDENTED DEMAND, GLOBAL HIT MUSICAL COME FROM AWAY ANNOUNCES A FINAL EXTENSION IN MELBOURNE UNTIL 21 MARCH 2020

Melbourne’s love affair with global hit musical COME FROM AWAY will continue for an extra two weeks, with the announcement today that it will extend its season until Saturday 21 March 2020.

Establishing a new record, the most successful musical in the Comedy Theatre’s history, the Australian production opened in July 2019 and continues to attract spontaneous standing ovations from the entire audience at every performance. Melburnians and tourists have poured into the theatre across the summer, with the production playing to capacity houses each night.

Producer, Rodney Rigby said “We have been completely overwhelmed by the response to Come From Away in Melbourne. This is the final extension possible, with the Melbourne Comedy Festival booked into the theatre for April – but if we could stay longer, we would!”

Currently there are five productions of COME FROM AWAY playing simultaneously around the world, and it has won 40 international awards.

The first production opened on Broadway to rave reviews in 2017 and has continued its record-breaking triumph with a second production in Toronto approaching its third year, a third production touring North America, now in its second year, and a West End production that opened in February earlier this year. The recently opened Australian production in Melbourne marks the fifth company.

The ground-breaking new musical is based on the incredible real-life events in the wake of the September 11 tragedy when 38 planes carrying nearly 7,000 people from over 100 countries were redirected to Gander, Newfoundland, almost doubling the population of the remote Canadian town.

Capturing the generosity and hospitality of the small community of Gander who invited the “come from aways” into their homes, it is an inspirational story of hope and humanity.

With book, music and lyrics by David Hein and Irene Sankoff, COME FROM AWAY is directed by Tony Award winner Christopher Ashley, choreographed by Kelly Devine (Rock of Ages, Diana), with music supervision by Ian Eisendrath (A Christmas Story, Diana), scenic design by Beowulf Boritt (Rock of Ages, Be More Chill) costume design byToni-Leslie James (Jelly’s Last Jam), lighting design byHowell Binkley (Jersey Boys, Hamilton), sound design byGareth Owen (Diana, A Bronx Tale).

COME FROM AWAY has won numerous awards including the Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical(Christopher Ashley), Winner of five Outer Critics Circle Awards (New York) including Outstanding New Broadway Musical. On top of this, the musical has received three Drama Desk Awards (New York) including Outstanding Musical, four Helen Hayes Awards (Washington, D.C) including Outstanding Production of a Musical, four Gypsy Rose Lee Awards (Seattle) including Excellence in production of a Musical and six San Diego Critics Circle Awards including Outstanding New Musical.

In February 2019, the musical added to its international award tally with four Olivier Awards including Best New Musical, Best Theatre Choreographer, Best Sound Design and Outstanding Achievement in Music and recently won Broadway World UK awards. In Australia, it has won the Ticketmaster ‘Ticket of the Year’ award for 2019, and recently took out the Drama Victoria award for Best Performance by a Theatre Company.

Global hit Broadway musical COME FROM AWAY announces eagerly awaited Sydney season

Producers Rodney Rigby and Junkyard Dog Productions are thrilled to announce that the worldwide smash hit and Tony and Olivier award-winning musical COME FROM AWAY will open at Sydney’s State Theatre on Saturday 8 August 2020.

With productions playing to sell-out audiences around the globe, Sydney audiences will now discover this remarkable true story of a small town that welcomed the world.

Producer Rodney Rigby said “It’s been wonderful to see the huge success of COME FROM AWAY in Melbourne, and how Australian audiences continue to resonate with this enduring story of kindness and humanity. We are delighted to bring this special production to Sydney’s State Theatre in August”.

The Australian Company, which has taken Melbourne by storm since opening in July, marks the fifth production of the musical worldwide, joining long-running current seasons on Broadway, in Toronto, the West End and the US National Tour.

COME FROM AWAY follows the incredible real-life journey of 7,000 air passengers who became grounded in Gander, Newfoundland in Canada in the wake of the September 11 tragedy. The small community that invited the ‘come from aways’ into their lives provided hope and humanity to those in need. Award-winning husband and wife authors David Hein and Irene Sankoff (book, music and lyrics), travelled to Newfoundland and interviewed thousands of locals, listening to and compiling their stories to share them with the world.

The musical has won countless awards internationally including the 2017 Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical (Christopher Ashley), Winner of five Outer Critics Circle Awards (New York) including Outstanding New Broadway Musical. On top of this, the musical has received three Drama Desk Awards (New York) including Outstanding Musical, four Helen Hayes Awards (Washington, D.C) including Outstanding Production of a Musical, four Gypsy Rose Lee Awards (Seattle) including Excellence in production of a Musical and six San Diego Critics Circle Awards including Outstanding New Musical.

In 2019, the musical added to its international award tally with four Olivier Awards including Best New Musical, Best Theatre Choreographer (Kelly Devine), Best Sound Design and Outstanding Achievement in Music, along with four Broadway World UK awards taking its international award tally to 41.

Australian audiences have furthered its record-breaking status, earning the title of most successful musical ever staged in the Melbourne Comedy Theatre’s 91-year history, and the audience-voted Ticketmaster’s ‘Ticket of the Year’ award for 2019.

With book, music and lyrics by David Hein and Irene Sankoff, COME FROM AWAY is directed by Tony Award winner Christopher Ashley (Diana, Memphis) choreographed by Olivier Award Winner Kelly Devine (Diana, Rock of Ages, Rocky) with music supervision by Ian Eisendrath (A Christmas Story, Diana), scenic design by Beowulf Boritt (Act One, Rock of Ages, Be More Chill), costume design by Toni-Leslie James (Jelly’s Last Jam), lighting design by Howell Binkley (Jersey Boys, Hamilton), sound design by Gareth Owen (Diana, A Bronx Tale).

The production will open in Sydney at the heritage-listed State Theatre in the heart of the CBD, with performances commencing on Saturday 1st August.

Tickets are on sale from Thursday 6th February 2020 at COMEFROMAWAY.COM.AU