Nfld. & Labrador·Video

Come From Away cast sheds tears meeting Newfoundlanders

It was a high energy night full of laughter and tears as the cast of the Come From Away musical met their character's real life inspirations in Gander on Friday.

The Come From Away cast, crew and creative team were treated to dinner at the Gander Airport on Friday.

The Come From Away cast met the inspirations for their characters in Gander on Friday. 1:21

It was a high energy night full of laughter and tears as the cast of the Come From Away Broadway-bound musical met the real life inspirations for their characters in Gander on Friday. 

The musical is making a detour for a pair of arena shows in Gander, performing a show based on stories from the regions compassionate response when thousands of people were left stranded following the events of 9/11.

Actress Astrid Van Wieren wiped away tears after stopping for photos with Beulah Cooper, the Gander resident her character is based on in the musical.

"You're my heart," said Van Wieren, her arm wrapped around Cooper's shoulders, holding her close.

"It's kind of hard to find words to describe meeting somebody that you're playing and then immediately feeling like you know them - and then immediately feeling like you love them." 

I never thought a tray of sandwiches would bring me here today.- Beulah Cooper

Cooper, dressed in a white and red blouse matching Van Wieren's plaid vest, said it's been an unforgettable experience. 

"I can't describe it, I just can't - and I'm starting to tear up," said Cooper.

"I never thought a tray of sandwiches would bring me here today."

Beulah Cooper smiles while meeting Come From Away actress Astrid Van Wieren at the Gander Airport on Friday. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

During the moments after 9/11, Cooper made a tray of sandwiches and dropped them off at the legion in Gander.

While there, she met an American woman stranded after North American air space was closed and her plane landed in Gander. 

Cooper drove the woman to a pay phone to call home. When the American broke down in tears, realizing the weight of the events, Cooper took her to her home in Gander. 

Most Emotional Experience

As Cooper and Van Wieren embraced inside the airport, the United States Ambassador to Canada was standing off to the side, holding back tears. 

"That was one of the most emotional experiences that I think I've had since I've been here in Canada," said Bruce Heyman, who has been America's ambassador since 2014. 

U.S. Ambassador to Canada Bruce Heyman said the scene Friday was the most emotional experience he's had on the job.

"To watch the people interact here in Gander at the airport, it's something incredibly special. I'll never forget tonight."

The night was celebrated with speeches from Come From Away's Canadian writers Irene Sankoff and David Hein, as well as Newfoundland and Labrador Lt.-Gov. Frank Fagan.

But it was Gander Mayor Claude Elliott who had the audience bending over in laughter and standing with applause during his speech. 

The greatest asset you got is your people.- Claude Elliott

"This story is not about me, it's not about us as individuals. It's about a community, it's about its people," said Elliott.

"And the greatest asset that any community will have - I don't care how much money you've got, I don't care how rich you are - the greatest asset you got is your people."

Come From Away actor Joel Hatch plays Gander Mayor Claude Elliott in the musical based on the compassionate reaction of Newfoundland after the events of 9/11. (Chris Ensing/CBC )

Elliott has already seen the production during its successful run at Ford's Theatre in Washington. He said he met a young man in the lobby that night who wanted to thank Canadians for helping during a difficult time.

"And in chatting with him I found out that his father was killed on Flight 93. And yet on that anniversary, and the storm he was facing, he took time out to thank the people for what we had done."

The cast is promising a full show in Gander on Saturday when it performs for thousands expected to pack the Steele Community Centre. 

All the proceeds from both performances are being donated to local charities in the region. 

About the Author

Chris Ensing

CBC News

Chris Ensing is a Video Journalist for CBC Windsor.