“Come from away” is the best musical I’ve seen in a long time and particularly uplifting for those who lived through 9/11. The content made it special to see on Broadway – I don’t know if the audience atmosphere would be the same if it were ever transferred to London.
I was living in New York at the time of 9/11 and for several years beyond it. On the first anniversary there were a great many memorial services which seemed entirely appropriate for all the people who had tragically lost someone. But at the same time the city was engulfed by a wave of mass hysteria with some people I knew going to 4, 5 or even 6 services that day. I felt immensely lucky not to have lost anyone I knew and I felt deeply for those who had lost friends or colleagues or loved ones but I somehow felt that responding to the mass hysteria and attending memorial services when I hadn’t lost someone was an insult to those who had lost people. That isn’t meant to sound judgemental – I suppose what I really felt was just that each person should respond in the way that felt right to them but, for me, I wanted to keep a low profile and just silently remember the loss of the city I loved as I went about a quiet day. Unable exactly to express the complex thoughts going through my mind, I was jolted out of this uneasy mood by the a live radio broadcast of an unpublicised concert from Central Park that was being put on to commemorate new beginnings after 9/11 and the unsupressability of the American people. It was the total reverse of the mass hysteria in the city in the lead up to the memorial: it was uplifting, positive and full of hope. I lived on the Upper East side not far from the park and rushed over to catch most of the concert live. The raw energy, sadness and shock of the previous year was suddenly channelled through thousands of people and through some of the world’s greatest pop and classical musicians (including Joshua Bell) into hope and celebration of a future. And it was all the more beautiful because it had intentionally not been advertised so as not to tap into the frenzied media sensationalism of the anniversary of 9/11. Perhaps it spread by word of mouth, perhaps by people walking through the park or hearing it on the radio as I did. But somehow word got out as the crowds were huge and the spirit irrepressible.
This musical I went to last week “Come from away” brought back to me of this wonderful spirit Americans and Canadians can have and their ability to generate good out of bad and to rise up stronger from tough experiences. Is it part of the same trait that makes serial entrepreneurs fail once, fail again and then become a success? Americans aren’t a nation to give up easily. They have hope and belief – in people and in themselves. It starts with can-do children and they grow into can-do adults. It is something we Europeans should aspire to. I completely understand why an American friend who married a Swiss friend and brought up their family in Switzerland has planned for their nearly teenage daughter to have a sabbatical year in the US simply to imbibe the can-do, positivity I have seen so often here.
“Come from away” tells the story of 38 planes carrying over 6500 passengers (including many Americans) that were forced to land in a backwater town of Gander in Newfoundland when US air space was closed on 9/11 after the collapse of the twin towers. The locals of the sleepy town, whose population was doubled overnight, threw open their public buildings, homes, hospitality and friendship to the passengers and bonds formed as people discovered things about themselves. The passengers were stuck in Gander for nearly a week but it turned out to be a powerful “life reset” for some of them.
The music is catchy and uplifting. The acting is strong – everyone has huge stage presence. The set lighting is lovely – intense blues, purples and pinks and the energy of the production high.
At the end the entire audience broke into standing ovations (hence all the heads in the picture above at the curtain call!) and were wild with positive emotion that was all the stronger for displacing some of the negative emotions that lie within each and everyone that lived through 9/11.
The musical was written by a Canadian husband and wife team Irene Sankoff and David Hein.
It is an absolute must for any trip to New York (especially if you can’t get into Hamilton !)
Top tip: it is sold out but I managed to get a ticket on the day by just turning up to the theatre 20 minutes before curtain up. Or if you are going some time in the future try to advance book.