From the iconic image of the lone “falling man” to the gut-punch visual of walls papered with seemingly endless “missing” flyers, the tragedy of 9/11 will reverberate long after every single person reading this is dust. With Come From Away, Irene Sankoff and David Hein (book, music, and lyrics) double down on joy without compromising the impossible-to-get-over sorrow of that day. The 90-minute musical takes place far from Ground Zero in Gander, a tiny town in Newfoundland where 38 planes carrying roughly 7,000 passengers (plus a menagerie of dogs, cats, and monkeys) were forced to make an abrupt and unexplained landing. Yet for all the passengers’ fear, rage, and frustration at finding themselves stuck for days in a plane parked on a rock below the arctic circle in an information blackout, light and life remain stalwart even in the shadow of death and uncertainty. Terrorists would hate this show: it’s filled with heroic gays and feisty women and comes down insistently on the side of goodness, decency, and the simple joys of unfettered access to those little airline booze bottles.
The music (stick around for the post-curtain-call jam) ranges from get-down-and-dance bangers (“Welcome to the Rock”) to don’t-you-dare-tell-me-to-sit-down feminist ballads (“Me and the Sky,” performed with power and glory by Becky Gulsvig’s Captain Beverley) to “Prayer,” a gorgeous, intricate polyphonic round that calls to mind the gossamer holiness of Fiddler on the Roof’s “Sabbath Prayer.” Keep an eye on Chicago’s James Earl Jones II, especially when a Gander city father tells him to round up grills from nearby backyards for a community cookout. Jones, a Black man, has a side-eye so pronounced you’d swear he can see BBQ Becky in his periphery.
Come From Away turns the cliche of the triumph of the human spirit into something we can all aspire to—no small thing, and something that’s not regularly achievable in a post-9/11 world. But the human capacity to foster healing and kindness amid unspeakable cruelty shines like an indomitable sun over this show (directed by Christopher Ashley). Nobody in Newfoundland solved terrorism. But they showed the world how to respond to it with compassion and humanity. v