Come From Away Is the Uplifting Musical We Need Right Now

The national touring company for the Broadway sensation Come From Away launched their national tour at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theater. Seattle’s a great place to kick off the tour, as it was workshopped at the Seattle Repertory Theater where it broke a number of records. Though the musical uses a national tragedy as its basis — namely, 9/11 — Come From Away is truly uplifting, and given the news coming out daily from the Trump Administration, is something we truly need right now.

There’s a famous Fred Rogers quote, “My mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.” And this quote is the theme of Come From Away.

Come From Away tells the true story of how the small town of Gander, Newfoundland, Canada — with a population of just over 11,000 people — suddenly became host to 7,000 passengers after their planes were grounded after the 9/11 attacks. Gander used to be known as a major airport where planes would refuel for transatlantic flights. But as planes could hold more fuel, the Gander airport was rarely used. But when 9/11 happened and air traffic controllers weren’t sure of the nature of the attacks, Gander was used because the small population meant any damage could be minimized — and 38 planes were ultimately directed to the tiny town.

The musical is based on thousands of interviews from Gander residents and the passengers diverted there. It’s an amazing story of how a community comes together to help people; the passengers and Ganderians bond and it’s truly beautiful. Though it doesn’t make everything completely feel-good; Come From Away also addresses the Islamophobia after the attacks as well, via the character Ali (played by Nick Duckart in this production), an Egyptian chef. The other passengers accuse him of somehow being involved or responsible, and he’s even strip-searched due to his ethnicity. It’s an ugly moment, but a necessary one.

One of the best things about Come From Away is the music. Based on the traditional music of Newfoundland, it’s a percussive, celtic-tinged sound, similar to the music of Appalachia. The songs, by Irene Sankoff and David Hein (who also wrote the book), are catchy and feature great lyrics. If you leave the show without “Welcome to the Rock” bouncing around your head, then you don’t exist.

The cast of the national tour is likewise amazing. The cast members each play a number of different characters, but it’s never confusing as to who is playing who, when. Though everyone was on the top of their game, Danielle K. Thomas, who played Hannah, was a particular standout. Hannah’s story is one of the most tense as her son, a New York City firefighter, is missing, and Thomas plays Hannah’s fear, dread and frustration beautifully.

The Seattle run of Come From Away runs through November 4, and from there, it goes to Salt Lake City, Denver, Los Angeles and San Francisco, among others. If Come From Away comes to your neck of the woods, go. It’s a balm for the heart.

Watch “Welcome to the Rock” from Come From Away at the 5th Avenue Theater below:

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Featured image by Matthew Murphy