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From small town Canada to the Broadway stage: Come From Away

guides Feb 25, 2019

Australia certainly isn’t lacking in the musical department, with more musicals than we can count on both hands. Melbourne is undoubtedly a frontrunner with the fantastic shows on offer. From Broadway classics to Aussie favourites, whether you prefer classic or contemporary, Melbourne’s got it all. One of the contemporary Broadway options is the Tony Award winning musical Come From Away. Chances are you’ve heard rumblings about it here and there, but you probably have a couple of questions. First and foremost…

What is this show actually about?

Come From Away tells the remarkable true story of the small Canadian town (or actually, the small Canadian island) that was forced to welcome thousands of stranded passengers after the 9/11 attacks. The U.S. Federal Administration was forced to close down U.S. airspace following the attacks, leaving more than four thousand planes (yes, four thousand) to land at the nearest airport. This left Gander International Airport in Newfoundland (Noof’n-land) accepting over six and half thousand people. Now perhaps that doesn’t sound like a huge number of people in the big scheme of things, but when you look at the numbers you realise just how crazy it was.

A town of ten thousand

Ten thousand was the approximate population of Gander in 2001. Now if we do the math, that means within 24 hours they accepted an amount of people that was equal to 65% of their population. That would be like Melbourne accepting over three million people in a day, which is impossible to imagine. To make things even crazier, at the time Gander only had 550 hotel rooms. I’m not going to sit here and calculate another percentage, but you don’t have to be a mathematician to figure out that that’s nowhere near enough places for six and a half thousand people.

317 minutes

That’s how long the passengers and crews of the 38 planes had to wait until they were allowed to exit. Taking on the role of mathematician once more, I can tell you that’s over five hours. With over 100 nationalities represented, cultural clashes led to rising tensions as the uncertainty of the situation left so many scrambling in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere. But as the hours passed, the hospitality that Newfies are so well-known for came out to play. Music rang into the night as gratitude and trust evolved into prevailing friendships.

But why ‘Come From Away’?

TV and pop-culture has taught me that Canadians say ‘eh’ and ‘thank you’ a lot, but Newfoundland colloquialisms are a whole different beast. The musical’s title actually comes from a common ‘Newfinese’ phrase. Turns out a ‘come from away’ is a person that wasn’t born in Newfoundland and is travelling to the province. That’s pretty interesting ‘eh’? Come From Away is the perfect title, representing both the setting and the overall experience of the thousands of people affected.

Here’s a couple of more Newfoundland phrases, some are easier to guess than others.

The journey to Broadway

Creating this musical was no easy feat. On the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, David Hein and Irene Sankoff travelled to Gander to document the incredible true stories. Every character in the show is based off a real person (or multiple people) and their incredible experience. Over sixteen-thousand stories were collected over the course of five days, all to be told in a one-hundred minute musical. From small-town Canada to the Broadway stage, Come From Away has been nominated for dozens awards, winning its first Tony in 2017 and a Grammy nomination in 2018.

Despite coming from entirely different backgrounds, close to seventeen-thousand people managed to find solace in what was undoubtedly one of the most unnerving events of the century. Come From Away is a musical like no other, with the entertainment value of Broadway and the heart of the people who lived this story.

Come From Away is making its Australian debut in Melbourne. Don’t miss your chance to learn about the incredible stories yourself when this Broadway hit arrives in July—Get your tickets now!

Tabitha Gyde

Tabby loves puns and pop culture. She also enjoys eating, travelling, and overwatering her plants.