The town of Gander, Newfoundland, is not noteworthy, as the residents tell the audience in the opening of “Come From Away.” It is described as “the farthest place from Disneyland," the weather is terrible, and there are only about 9,000 people there.
However, one beautiful and horrible morning in September 2001, 38 planes landed in Gander’s airport, once the biggest in North America, but since rendered obsolete. It was the nearest place planes flying on 9/11 could land when all air traffic was ceased in the wake of the attacks. Despite their differences, the people came together to create a sense of community.
“Come From Away,” a musical which played at the IU Auditorium Nov. 1 and 2, tells the real-life story of Gander, which occupies a unique place in the annals of 9/11. Its story shows how anyone can make a difference in the most tragic of circumstances and how the human spirit can overcome tragedy.
Indeed, “Come From Away” features many such stories showing how the “plane people,” as the Newfoundlanders called them, and the people of Gander came together. One woman who was devastated with worry about her firefighter son formed a friendship with a woman from Gander whose son was also a firefighter.
An African American man told the story of how he was wary of the Newfoundlanders for inviting him to stay at their homes but finally accepted the offer of the mayor (played by Andrew Hendrick, who also played several different mayors of small Canadian towns by removing or adding one accessory, such as a hat or mustache, to the laughter of the crowd).
In one especially poignant scene, a bus driver was able to communicate with a couple from Africa through their Bible. While the driver’s Bible was in a different language, he was able to refer to the numbered verses to find a verse that would reassure the worried passengers.
One of the most moving songs in “Come From Away” showed people of many different religious groups turning to faith for solace after the unfathomable tragedy. Their different hymns threaded together and showed the unity faith can bring.
IU sophomore Emily Garcia was in the crowd on Wednesday, Nov. 1. To Garcia, the best song in the show was “Screech In,” in which the local Newfoundlanders host a “ceremony” to transform the “plane people” into honorary Newfoundlanders. The practice included drinking Screech, which is “basically bad Jamaican rum” as one character said, wearing a floppy rain hat and kissing a giant codfish.
“It was really entertaining and just very energetic,” Garcia said. “It’s nice to know that even strangers you may not know, even in a different country, can be really supportive of a national event that’s happened. And I think it’s really sweet seeing that.”
Unfortunately, despite the levity, the show also had some incredibly dark undertones, especially when it came to the discrimination a Muslim American character faced. Garcia said that while she thought the show accurately represented the discrimination experienced by Muslim people after 9/11, it still hurt to watch.
Ultimately, “Come From Away” is not a show about grief, but about the resilience people find in their grief. The joyous music of the finale had people cheering after the last note was sung.