Canadian musical, Come From Away, gets extended run in California
Gander, N.L.'s 9/11 musical resonates with audiences at La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego
The world premiere of the Canadian musical Come From Away has been such a hit at the La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego, California, its theatrical run has been extended twice.
The show is based on the true story of residents in Gander, N.L., who came to the aid of thousands of international airline passengers left stranded in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.
The Toronto-based husband and wife writing team, David Hein and Irene Sankoff, had great success with their first musical, My Mother's Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding, also based on a true story, about David's mother.
In 2011, Gander marked the tenth anniversary of 9/11 with a reunion. Hein and Sankoff went to gather stories from those marking the event; travellers, airline flight crews, pilots, and residents alike.
Experience changed lives
"The experience was one that changed people's lives," says Hein, "with foundations and scholarships founded as a result."
"There was a couple who fell in love there," adds Hein.
"Nick was from England and Diane was from Texas and they met over that time and they completely fell in love."
The pair was also struck by how much a part of everyday life music is in Gander. Residents even went around to shelters and performed to cheer passengers up, and it seemed natural for the story to became a musical.
La Jolla Playhouse artistic director Christopher Ashley says he didn't know the Celtic-inspired sounds of Newfoundland beforehand, but he decided to direct Come From Away after first falling in love with the music.
"I just kind of thought the rock score was propulsive and exciting," he said. "And the lyrics are smart."
After visiting Newfoundland to meet some of the real life characters portrayed in the musical, he was keen to share the story of "the radical hospitality" shown to vulnerable and traumatized strangers, some of them with relatives and friends they lost in the terrorist attack itself.
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The cast of twelve play hundreds of people, with accents from all over the world.
Petrina Bromley, from St. John's N.L., is one of three Canadian actors in the musical. She plays the role of Bonnie Harris, a real-life Gander resident and SPCA worker, who looked after the nineteen animals from diverted flights that had to be quarantined.
"The characters in our show are following us on Facebook and cheering us on" says Hein. "Everyone from Newfoundland knows about the show and is excited about it and now that they're coming to see the production it's just magic, there's nothing like it."
And how well does a Gander N.L. story translate to an audience south of the border and on the opposite side of the continent?
"I mean as soon as we walk into the Tim Horton's in the show and the townspeople start talking to each other, people are laughing," says Sankoff.
With shows like The Who's Tommy and Jersey Boys that opened at La Jolla Playhouse before successful Broadway runs, a promising future for Come From Away seems likely.
For now, Hein and Sankoff just hope they can bring the show home to Toronto and hopefully even to Gander.
Come From Away runs at the La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego until July 12.
You can see the interviews from this story in the video above.