Nfld. & Labrador

Come From Away rocks two shows in Newfoundland ahead of Toronto, Broadway

Thousands sat in a Newfoundland hockey arena on Saturday to watch a cast headed for Broadway perform a musical based on the compassionate response of Newfoundlanders following the events of 9/11.

Musical tells the story of Gander's reaction to passengers stranded following 9/11

The cast of Come From Away wraps the second of two shows in Gander, N.L., on Saturday. (Twitter/@WeComeFromAway)

Thousands sat in a Gander, N.L., hockey arena on Saturday to watch a cast headed for Broadway perform a musical based on the compassionate response of Newfoundlanders following the events of 9/11.

It was a day of heartfelt tears, full body laughter and high energy songs as more than 120 people with the Come From Away musical put on two shows in front of thousands.

The show's Canadian writers Irene Sankoff and David Hein say these pair of shows were a career highlight.

"I wouldn't want to watch it anywhere else," said Hein.

"This was such an incredible audience, it was such an incredible moment for us and our entire cast and crew."

Sankoff and Hein started interviewing Newfoundlanders about the days following Sept. 11 at a 10th anniversary ceremony held in Gander. 

Now the show is headed to Broadway after a successful run in the United States.

While it plays Toronto in November, Sankoff said bringing the musical to Newfoundland was important.

She said she's had a lifelong love for theatre but didn't see her first Broadway show until she was in her 20s. 

"So I know how important it is to bring it, actually bring everything here because it's just hard – it's hard to get to the mainland."

Guts full of emotions

At the end of the final performance on Saturday, the cast dragged Gander Mayor Claude Elliott and Appleton Mayor Derm Flynn up on the stage for a dance in front of a roaring audience. 

"I was a little skeptical of how a musical would go," said Flynn, who saw it for the first time Saturday night.

"If it goes half as well on Broadway as it did here in Gander, I think there's a huge hit in the works."

Appleton Mayor Derm Flynn greets Come From Away co-writer Irene Sankoff after the show's final performance in Gander on Saturday. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

Flynn spoke with tears in his eyes as he recounted the quick character changes and musical numbers. 

"My gut is sore from laughing and crying," said Flynn.

"I guess I'm a little biased, but we loved it and I'm sure that everybody that sees this will have a good feeling in the bottom of their gut."

The Come From Away musical was written to show the compassionate response by Newfoundlanders when air space closed over North America after the Twin Towers fell —diverting dozens of planes to Gander. 

The community took in more than 6,000 passengers for several days while planes were grounded. 

The show tells the story in the eyes of local mayors, residents, a pilot, and stranded passengers over the course of 90 minutes with quick costume changes and heartfelt musical numbers.

Daphne Izer, who was born in Newfoundland, travelled from Maine to watch the show in Gander. 

"I wanted to come to Gander to see the play as opposed to going to Broadway in New York," said Izer.

"Because this is where it all happened and I'm very pleased to be here, I'm just emotional right now." 

Izer was part of a crowd that waved an American flag during the finale on Saturday night as the crowd gave the cast a long standing ovation.

"I've heard a lot about it and they didn't disappoint. They were great, they were awesome," said Izer, who said she can't believe a musical has been created about Newfoundland's response. 

Daphne Izer travelled from Maine to take in the Come From Away show in her home province of Newfoundland and Labrador. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

No final attendance numbers were available for the show, but CBC News was told the venue was set up for 2,500 seats at both shows. 

The second Saturday show provided additional seating and still sold out.

All proceeds from the performance are being donated to charities in the region. 

Come From Away opens in Toronto on Nov. 23 and on Broadway in February 2017.


Chris Ensing

CBC News

Chris Ensing is a reporter who has worked as a videojounalist and host for CBC News since 2011.