Take a moment to close your eyes. Where were you the morning of September 11th, 2001? Without a doubt, I can tell you exactly where I was. Now, when it comes to the morning of the 12th, that part’s a bit sketchy. I can’t remember whether I went to the gym or if I chose to just stay home out of shock and fear. To the contrary, there’s a little town in Canada ~ an island actually ~ whose residents can tell you their exact whereabouts the day AFTER tragedy struck and the subsequent days following. The story based on their true events ~ and those of thousands of travelers stranded there ~ is currently on tour in the brilliant Broadway musical called Come From Away. The production recently reached the Dr. Phillips Center stage for the final show in season’s Orlando Broadway Series.
I was invited by the Dr. Phillips Center to view this Orlando Broadway Series performance in exchange for my honest review. While my ticket was complimentary, my opinions are 100% mine and mine alone. This post does contain affiliate links. Please see my Disclosure policy for more information.
September 11th, 2011 ~ Where were you?
That morning, my husband picked up and headed to work early, as he always did. He was an ROTC instructor for two northern Chicago universities and PT usually happened before the sun rose. Me? I was similarly heading to the gym (with our only son at the time in tow) for my morning workout.
Once at the gym, I headed straight to the child care room to drop off our little guy. As I was walking in, the Day Care Lead (we’ll call her Carmen) had just taken an emergent call from her husband.
Almost instantly, Carmen’s countenance dropped. We all knew SOMETHING was wrong. But what? She began to say something about a plane flying into the World Trade Center. We all froze ~ confused and in shock. As soon as we realized what had happened, many of us made a mad dash to the elliptical machines. We all wanted one right in front of the televisions.
And there we stayed for as long as we were allowed…..watching the horror unfold.
It was devastating.
And then the buildings fell…..
I’m sure we all can remember where we were when we heard the news. However, can you remember where were you the day AFTER?
The Stories That Nurtured Come From Away
There’s a small Canadian town in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador whose residents can answer that question with vivid recall. Shortly after tragedy struck the world at large, the residents of Gander were told that their small airport was about to become an emergency landing area.
Planes were being grounded all over the world in response to the attacks. As a result, those coming from Europe were being diverted to Gander Airport. This little town of 9,000 residents was about to greet about 7,000 unexpected guests, many of whom were confused, afraid, worried and frustrated.
While realistically there had to have been some level of panic, the ultimate reaction from the community at large was, “Who can get this and who can get that? Someone prepare this place for shelter and someone start working on a menu.” They put aside their fear and any selfish concerns they may have had and presented themselves ready and willing to assist their unexpected visitors.
That’s the beauty of Gander ~ their hearts were as big as the island on which they lived.
Whose Story is Being Told
The story of Gander caught the attention of Irene Sankoff and David Hein, a married couple looking to share this beautiful tale that occurred in the midst of such tragedy. Years after the event, Sankoff and Hein began interviewing as many of the 16,000 individuals involved as they could. Ultimately, they took as those recollections and melded many of them into a beautiful montage that tells a story of compassion, diversity and the lasting effect of being there for one another.
The brilliance behind this production takes us into the days following the events of September 11th. While the diverted travelers sought out information, attempted to connect with loved ones and eagerly awaited word that they could go home, they were met with the most unusual of gestures. What started out with strangers meeting strangers turned into brand new connections and friendships. Those stricken with fear were met with comfort. Those paralyzed with worry were given reasons to breathe. For those desperately trying to connect with family, residents found ways to provide opportunities for them to reach out, connect and, for most, breathe a temporary sigh of relief.
Throughout the musical, the audience is treated to multiple story-lines. Co-authors, Sankoff and Hein, did a magnificent job giving us a broad, yet creatively definitive, scope of nearly 16,000 scenarios that played out over the course of five days.
What made the portrayals more fascinating to the audience was the fact that, while we are exposed to dozens of roles, we see only the immense talent of 12 actors on stage. Each actor had the responsibility of several roles and various personalities (can you imagine the training THAT took!?). Each role was well defined and easily identifiable. There was little question as to whom each of them was playing and at one point.
Through a fast-moving, no-intermission production, we joined the cast as they boarded an airplane, rode on a bus and danced in a bar. We also waited in line with them to use the telephone and spent some time “sight-seeing.” Each scene and role was adjusted meticulously with the most minimalist of changes ~ the movement of chairs, the addition or subtraction of an article of clothing, the use of an accent.
To call it exquisite would be an understatement.
The choreography appeared simple, yet sharp, poignant, synchronized and intentional. The vocals were stunning! The range, the diction, the harmony ~ I was in heaven!! I don’t think there was a weak link in the bunch (and trust me, my ear knows how to find them!!).
The one scene that moved me most..
There is one scene in the musical where travelers are looking for a way to practice their faith. Obviously, in a crowd of thousands, no ONE religious practice could stand more superior than the other. In Gander that week, there was a tremendous and beautiful mix of Catholics, Protestants, Hindus, Jews and Muslims (to name a few) ~ all looking for a way and place to pray and worship.
The scene starts with one character talking about a tune he recently heard, but couldn’t place right away. Ultimately, he remembers that the tune was an old hymn with which he grew up, “The Prayer of St. Francis (Make Me A Channel of Your Peace).” What a tremendously applicable song to play in such a situation. This and a medley of others were woven together into a song entitled “Prayer.” The medley, which occurs halfway through the performance, penetrated to the very soul of the audience. It eloquently showed a beautiful connection between dozens of religions and worship styles from around the world. Not only this, but it spoke boldly, loudly and effortlessly about acceptance and religious diversity.
Most religions would agree that compassion, kindness and unrequited generosity are true pillars and demonstrations of authentic faith. In this one tiny little town placed in the middle of nowhere, we witness how true “godliness” looks. The people of Gander, Newfoundland, became channels of peace for the world.
The impact of Gander’s actions didn’t just affect the passengers stranded there in that tiny Newfoundland town in 2001. That impact was carried home with them five days later ~ no extra luggage fees required. To this day, the kindness demonstrated toward each and every race, religion, gender and lifestyle lives on in their hearts and actions. It continues to drive how many of them act towards others, discern situations and give back. In essence, this is their way of saying, “Thank you, Gander, for taking care of us.”
Add Come From Away to your Broadway Bucket List!
I had the amazing pleasure of seeing Come From Away at the Dr. Phillips Center in Orlando. It was the last production in the 2018/2019 #OrlandoBroadwaySeries and was a fitting way to end the season. The entire house rose to its feet with the last note of the show and the applause continued for some tme. While I’ve seen many of the performances the second half of this season, this may very well have been my favorite. Without a doubt, it’s near perfect performance will live with me for some time.
If you have the fortunate blessing of this musical coming to your area, I encourage you to find the time to go see it. You will laugh hysterically, you will cry uncontrollably and, as you leave, you will desire to become a part of something bigger than yourself.
And pssst – don’t forget about the Stage Door!!
As I noted above, Gander is a place where the hearts of its residents are as big as the island on which they live. It may not have been a popular vacation destination, nor a place people would normally have on their travel bucket list. However, on September 11th, 2001, the individuals who called Gander home became international heroes.
To the people of Gander, to the writers of this spectacular musical and to the thousands of people who were affected by the grounding of those 38 planes….thank you for showing no partiality, demonstrating selfish generosity and persevering until you reached home.
We will see you back in the 2019/2020 season when the following #OrlandoBroadwaySeries productions will be:
PLUS: BEAUTIFUL: THE CAROLE KING MUSICAL HAS BEEN ADDED TO THE LIST!!! See the calendar for dates!!
Before you go, here is a fantastic interview with the co-authors of Come From Away.
In addition, check out my other #OrlandoBroadwaySeries reviews from the Dr. Phillips Center:
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