Broadway-bound 'Come From Away' heads to 9/11 haven Gander, N.L. for charity
Credit: Come From Away Musical/Facebook
Sue Bailey, The Canadian Press
Published Friday, October 28, 2016 7:22AM EDT
Last Updated Friday, October 28, 2016 10:22AM EDT
ST. JOHN'S, N.L. -- Retired American Airlines Capt. Beverley Bass will be in Gander, N.L., this weekend when the Broadway-bound "Come From Away" lands in the 9/11 haven that inspired the show's true tales of kindness.
Bass diverted her Boeing 777 to the Gander International Airport in central Newfoundland on Sept. 11, 2001. Hers was one of 38 planes with 6,579 passengers and crew who almost doubled the town's population as terror attacks closed U.S. air space.
"Come From Away" chronicles what happened next as residents threw open their doors to "the plane people."
The musical that offers another take on an awful time has already played to critical acclaim and sold-out crowds in San Diego, Seattle and Washington, D.C.
"I've seen it 32 times," Bass said in an interview. "They created this great music where the band comes on to the stage at the end and it's supposed to be the walk-out music while people are leaving. The problem is, nobody leaves. They just stay there clapping and clapping."
The cast is in Gander for two concerts Saturday as a fundraiser for local charities before the show opens in Toronto next month. After that, it's off to New York City for a run on Broadway this winter.
The Newfoundland stop is to thank Gander and surrounding towns -- including Gambo, Appleton, Lewisporte, Norris Arm and Glenwood -- who offered their homes and lasting friendship.
The actor who plays Bass recreates the moment when, about seven hours after the attacks, she's at last able to reach her husband and say: "Tom, I'm fine."
"After 32 times we can finally get through the show without crying," said Bass, whose two children were just eight and nine at the time. "It's so beautiful."
Canadian co-creators David Hein and Irene Sankoff first arrived in Gander five years ago for the 10th-anniversary commemoration of 9/11.
What was supposed to be a short stay turned into a month of in-depth interviews that shaped the narrative for "Come From Away," Hein said from Toronto. The young husband-and-wife team had only ever written one other musical, also based on a true story involving his family: "My Mother's Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding."
It wasn't long before they realized they were on to something extraordinary. Hein recalled one of many times locals welcomed them to stay so they could save on hotel rooms.
They were told as one homeowner left for a few days: "Now, you might want to lock the door -- not because anything bad is going to happen but because someone might come in for a cup of tea."
"We thought they were joking," Hein said. "And in the morning, there was a guy sitting there in the kitchen drinking a cup of tea waiting for us to wake up. He wanted to show us around town."
Response to "Come From Away" has been beyond their dreams, Hein said.
"Broadway's fantastic, but we've always talked about that the best thing would be to bring it back to Gander."
Sankoff, a self-described city girl, said Newfoundland changed her.
"It's not that I'm not safe or smart but I'm a much more open person, and much more giving just because of what I witnessed and what I experienced for myself out there."
Newfoundlander Petrina Bromley plays Bonnie Harris, the manager of the Gander and Area SPCA.
Harris and a team of volunteers worked flat out over the five days before planes could depart caring for nine dogs and 10 cats travelling in cargo holds. They included a cocker spaniel puppy named Ralph who would go on to become an American show champion.
Bromley said "Come From Away" gives people a cathartic chance to revisit 9/11.
"(It) turns this story of terrorism and fear into a beautiful, beautiful story of friendship and of people helping each other in the darkest of times," she said in an interview.
The real Bonnie Harris will see one of the concerts Saturday. She described how an American woman who'd seen "Come From Away" three times in the U.S. travelled to Gander last summer.
"She said she just had to drop in to see me. She actually brought me some coffee and smoked salmon."
Harris is at a bit of a loss to understand why Newfoundland's response to 9/11 moved so many people.
"The way a lot of Newfoundlanders were raised, this is what you do," she said in an interview. "My mom is the type of person who, if she's got something and you need it, she'll give it to you -- whether she needed it or not.
"It's just the way we are."