It takes three songs before Come From Away mentions the specific date at the center of its narrative, 9/11, the one so many of us have forever imprinted on our memories.
That decision by the award-winning musical’s creators, Irene Sankoff and David Hein, makes sense the further you get into the show. While the action starts on 9/11, it certainly doesn’t end there, nor does it follow the pattern we have come to expect of accounts that relate the events of that day. Instead, it is the buoyant, surprisingly humorous, and most of all, happily heartfelt story we didn’t know we needed in our growing lexicon of 9/11 stories.
Come From Away, which plays in Houston through March 8 as part of Broadway at the Hobby Center’s current season, recounts a true story that took place more than 1,400 miles away from New York City. As the world watched in horror, the residents of Gander, a small town in the northeastern part of Newfoundland, Canada, cared for almost 7,000 stranded passengers after the U.S. closed its airspace on that fateful September day.
“Having people say, 'What’s it like to see somebody play you on stage?' It’s crazy,” said real-life passenger Kevin Tuerff, who spoke alongside some of the other individuals whose experiences were told in the musical during a panel discussion after the performance Tuesday. “And now there are five or six versions around the world in this show, playing in the UK; Toronto, Canada; Melbourne, Australia; a touring company; on Broadway.”
Come From Away doesn’t avoid the pain and heartbreak that surround 9/11, as seen in the agonizingly emotional “I Am Here,” a song performed by Hannah, a mother desperately searching for information on her missing New York-firefighter son. But, at its core, the musical is a story of selflessly caring for your fellow man and of finding friendship in unexpected places.
As Claude Elliot, the former mayor of Gander, told the Houston audience after the show, “kindness and generosity are free.”
The conviction of this message, which never panders or diminishes the 2001 tragedy, is brought to life in the energetic and passionate performances delivered by the tour’s stellar cast of 12, who switch, often multiple times in the same song, between playing the Ganderites and the “plane people,” as they’re call in the show, with the assistance of minor costume changes (think a hat here, a jacket there) and thick accents.
Come From Away’s overarching optimism and sincerity allows the plot keep its altitude through boisterous group numbers including the show’s foot-stomping opener, “Welcome to the Rock,” and into quieter moments, like the moving “Prayer,” which features passengers from all over the world seeking spiritual guidance.
You can’t escape the crosswinds of love and laughter that lifts your spirit to new heights.
Thru Mar 8. From $63. Hobby Center, 800 Bagby St. 713-315-2400. More info and tickets at thehobbycenter.org.