Come From Away: The True Story Behind Broadway's Hit Musical (2023)

The tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, may not seem like the obvious inspiration for a feel-good musical — but the heartwarming true story behind the sold-out Broadway hit Come from Away is a tale of generosity and kindness that’s stayed largely under-the-radar for years.

With critics singing its praises, celebrity visitors already flocking to it (including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who brought first daughter Ivanka Trump and UN ambassador Nikki Haley to Wednesday’s performance) and a Best Musical Tony nomination all-but guaranteed, Come from Away is already on track to be one of Broadway’s biggest success stories of the year.

But the true story behind it is one that deserves all the standing ovations.

The action takes place on the Canadian island of Newfoundland — thousands of miles away from New York City’s World Trade Center, Washington D.C.’s Pentagon, and Pennsylvania’s Somerset County.

With the Federal Aviation Agency immediately closing the United States’ airspace in the hours following the deadliest terrorist attack in U.S. history, Canadian air traffic control stepped in to help.

As part of Operation Yellow Ribbon, they landed 38 jumbo jets and four military flights bound for the United States at Newfoundland’s Gander International Airport — the nearest sizable airport on the continent.

Ironically, Gander was a thriving military post during World War II, and for years was used as a refueling point for transatlantic aircrafts unable to make it across the ocean. Until 9/11, the very high-powered jumbo jets that landed there that day virtually put Gander out of business, since their tanks were big enough to make the trip without stopping.

As a result of the detour, 6,759 passengers and airline crew members — plus 9 cats, 11 dogs, and a pair of endangered apes — arrived in Gander, descending on the small northeastern town (and its nearby villages) and nearly doubling its population of 9,651.

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(Video) "Come From Away" | How The Broadway Hit Was Made

Unable to see footage of the chaos that was unfolding in the U.S., the passengers were not allowed to leave their planes for the first 24 hours or so until customs and security could be put in place to assure no terrorists were on board — as Tom Brokaw explained in a popular 2010 documentary for NBC News. Nor could they find other transportation methods home once they were let out, like renting a car or charting a bus.

They simply had to wait.

One might expect residents to feel overwhelmed by the onslaught heading their way. (After all, the sheer amount of people presented a startling logistics crisis — with challenges surrounding food, housing, transportation, supplies and translators.) But the Canadians lived up to the their kind reputation, and opened their doors to the American refugees — dropping everything to host and comfort them until the airspace reopened and all flights once again departed (roughly 5 days later).

They even gave them a cute nickname: “the plane people.”

Taking only their carry-on luggage with them (checked luggage was forbidden to be retrieved), “the plane people” were quickly absorbed into the Gander community.

Perfect strangers were invited into people’s homes – where meals, beds, and new clothes awaited them. Striking school bus drivers put down their picket signs and volunteered to transport people from their planes. Schools were converted into makeshift shelters. Restaurants and bakeries donated food, while pharmacies provided everything from diapers to medication to feminine products.

Group cookouts were planned. Phone and computer centers were set up. Walmart cashiers invited perfect strangers home for warm showers. An empty airline hanger was turned into an animal shelter, where the pets — many of which were traveling alone — could stretch and run.

No one was charged for anything, NPR reported. When asked what they owed, “the plane people” were often told in response , “You’d do the same for us.”

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(Video) The true story Inspiring the hit musical 'Come From Away'

“The people of Gander were just phenomenal,” American Airlines pilot Beverley Bass told The Dallas Morning News in 2011. “I can’t say enough nice things about them. They brought smoking patches to the airplane. They brought diapers of every size. They brought baby formula. They filled 2,000 prescriptions in the middle of the night.”

“When we got off, they had tables and tables set up,” she continued. “The people of Gander had cooked all night long. They made all kinds of sandwiches. They gave us a bag. It was kind of like Halloween. You went from table to table and just picked up what you want. They had fruit and brownies and pies and cakes — they had made everything.”

She added: “There were 6,565 passengers and crew that showed up within a three-hour period. They were fed three hot meals a day, every day we were there.”

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One group of terminally ill children flying from London to Disney World in Florida for their birthdays were treated to the next best thing, when a police officer Oswald Fudge’s daughter and her teenage friends created a pop-up Orlando at St. Paul’s Intermediate School — complete with local entertainment and sweet treats.

“My daughter dressed up as [local mascot] Commander Gander,” Fudge told The New York Post in an article chronicling Gander’s locals. “Three girls from my daughter’s class dressed as fairies. A bakery made a cake for 350 people, and we had balloons and stuffed animals.”

“One of the fathers said, ‘My daughter’s wish was to go to Disney World, but even if we don’t get there, it’s okay. We’ve had such a good time here, she’s not sad,’ ” Fudge recalled.

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(Video) Full Documentary: Gander's Ripple Effect: How a Small Town's Kindness Opened on Broadway

Almost 30 hours after the terrorist attacks, footage of what happened was finally shown to “the plane people.” Some lost friends and family members in the attacks — like Bass, who knew Charles Burlingame, the pilot on American Airlines Flight 77 (which crashed into the Pentagon).

Long Island natives Hannah and Dennis O’Rourke lost their son Kevin — a New York City firefighter at Rescue Co. 2 in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, who died in the Trade Center.

The residents of Gander were there to comfort them in their grief.

That time together during one of the world’s darkest moments formed tight relationships between the residents and the temporary refugees — ones that have lasted well beyond their stay.

When the travel ban was lifted on Sept. 14, all of the 6,759 “plane people” slowly returned to their aircrafts and flew back to their original destinations. But Gander surely never left them.

Money was donated and scholarships were set up to say thanks. Gifts were sent. Two travelers fell in love and married. The O’Rourkes, like many, kept in touch with their host families and still talk to this day, The Post reported.

Many returned on the 10th anniversary of the attacks, The New York Times reported — where a small ceremony was held at the town’s community center.

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(Video) The Story of Come From Away

Also there to witness the 10-year anniversary? Irene Sankoff and David Hein — the husband-and-wife writing team behind Come from Away.

Sure, many of the stories from Gander had already been told in a book (The Day the World Came to Town), a Canadian TV movie (Diverted) and a BBC radio play (The Day the Planes Came). But Sankoff and Hein went one step further: They chatted with Newfoundlanders and “the plane people” alike, and turned their interviews into a poignant and emotional piece of theater.

They filled their show with a small cast of actors, all playing multiple roles. Some characters are specifically based on real people, like Bass (played by actress Jenn Colella) — who provides the story’s emotional center. Others were made up of composite sketches of multiple people Sankoff and Hein met throughout their research.

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Before Broadway, Come from Away fine-tuned its emotional tale with out-of-town tryouts and stagings — including stops at Canada’s Sheridan College, the Goodspeed musical festival in Connecticut, the National Alliance for Musical Theater in New York, the La Jolla Playhouse in California, the Seattle Repertory Theater in Washington, the Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C., and the Royal Alexandra Theater in Toronto.

Director Christopher Ashley even brought the entire cast and crew back to Gander in the fall of 2016 for a pop-up performance, so that Newfoundlanders could see how they were being depicted on stage.

“Because we were in New York, we are really sensitive to making sure this was done right,” Hein told the Washingtonian last fall. “But when we started this we were very clear that this isn’t a story about 9/11, this is a 9/12 story. It never seems there’d bad time to tell a story about kindness to strangers, and particularly now, it feels more important.”

Come from Away is now open at Broadway’s Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre.

FAQs

What is the true story behind Come From Away? ›

It is based on the events in the Newfoundland town of Gander during the week following the September 11 attacks, when 38 planes, carrying approximately 7,000 passengers, were ordered to land unexpectedly at Gander International Airport.

How much of the musical Come From Away is true? ›

COME FROM AWAY is based on actual events that took place on September 11, 2001 and the days that followed. The final diverted plane takes off. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) makes the decision to shut down its airspace, forcing over 4,000 planes to land at the nearest airport.

What is come far away musical about? ›

This New York Times Critics' Pick takes you into the heart of the remarkable true story of 7,000 stranded passengers and the small town in Newfoundland that welcomed them. Cultures clashed and nerves ran high, but uneasiness turned into trust, music soared into the night, and gratitude grew into enduring friendships.

What is the musical Come From Away based on? ›

Even if you are not a musical theater buff, you may have heard about "Come From Away," the play based on the true story of the 38 U.S.-bound planes that were diverted on 9/11/2001 to Gander International Airport in Gander, Newfoundland, Canada, for several days, when the entire airspaces of the U.S. and Canada were ...

What happened to Hannah's son in Come From Away? ›

Long Island natives Hannah and Dennis O'Rourke lost their son Kevin — a New York City firefighter at Rescue Co. 2 in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, who died in the Trade Center. The residents of Gander were there to comfort them in their grief.

Why did the Kevins break up in Come From Away? ›

In the musical, the gay couple Kevin T. and Kevin J. broke up because of 9/11. That's fine for storytelling purposes, but the reality is we spent many years together after our time in Gander, but parted ways in 2010.

How long did passengers stay in Gander? ›

On September 11, 2001, after flights were rerouted to their nearest airports, thirty-eight jets suddenly landed in Gander, stranding some seven thousand passengers for up to five days in a town with only five hundred hotel rooms.

Are the people in Come From Away real people? ›

The characters in Come From Away are all based on the real Gander residents that lived in the town during 9/11 and plane passengers who were diverted there and befriended the residents.

Did Come From Away win a Tony? ›

A “Best Musical” winner all around the world, Come From Away began performances on Broadway on February 18, 2017, and officially opened to critical acclaim on March 12, 2017, earning 7 Tony Award nominations including Best Musical and winning the Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical (Christopher Ashley).

What does the title Come From Away mean? ›

Q: WHAT DOES "COME FROM AWAY" MEAN? A: Native Newfoundlanders refer to those not born on the island as "Come From Aways". The travelers who landed in Newfoundland on diverted planes on September 11, 2001 were said to have "Come From Away".

Will Come From Away be a movie? ›

Come from Away is a 2021 American-Canadian musical film comprising a live stage recording of Irene Sankoff and David Hein's 2017 musical of the same name, which tells the true story of 7,000 airline passengers who were stranded in a small town in Newfoundland, where they were housed and welcomed, after the September 11 ...

Is there a Come From Away movie? ›

And from this story of connection and compassion came “Come From Away,” already a celebrated stage musical and now a film streaming on Apple TV+ in time for the 20th anniversary of 9/11.

Who is Bob in Come From Away? ›

Meet the real Bob! Tom McKeon from New York was travelling home on September 11, 2001, when his flight was diverted to Gander, Newfoundland, Canada. Tom was one of the 'plane people' and his story inspired the character 'Bob' in the musical, Come From Away.

Is Come From Away appropriate for a 13 year old? ›

What age is Come From Away appropriate for? Come From Away is recommended for audience members aged 10 and up.

Why was Come From Away written? ›

Come From Away is a Canadian musical based on the true story of how the residents of Gander, Newfoundland, welcomed stranded airline passengers into their homes in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Is the couple from Come From Away still together? ›

It's a true story and something special to Diane and Nick Marson. They're husband and wife who likely would have never met if it wasn't for landing in that small town. On September 7, Diane and Nick Marson celebrated 19 years of marriage.

Why is Gander Newfoundland famous? ›

Gander is the site of North America's only Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery. At the time of its completion in 1938, the then 'Newfoundland Airport' was the largest airfield on the planet, with four huge paved runways covering a combined area of one square mile.

Why do they have Irish accents in Come From Away? ›

Newfoundland has indeed a deep Irish heritage which stretches back to the mid-18th century. These Irish roots are evident in the show's score, written by husband-and-wife team Irene Sankoff and David Hein.

Who is Janice in Come From Away? ›

Come from Away (2021) - Emily Walton as Janice Mosher and others - IMDb.

Who is Ali in Come From Away? ›

Thomas), who is frantic for news of her son, a New York City firefighter, Ali (Nick Duckart), a chef who comes under scrutiny for being a Muslim from the Middle East, Kevin J (Duckart again) and Kevin T (Jeremy Woodard), a gay couple whose relationship is tested by the experience, Bob (James Earl Jones II), who can't ...

How much do Broadway actors make? ›

The average salary for a lead Broadway star is $4,380 per week, or $227,360 per year. The highest-paid Broadway stars can earn up to $8,000 per week, or $416,000 per year. The salaries of Broadway stars are typically negotiated by their agents and managers.

How long were the planes grounded after 9 11? ›

In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, North American airspace was closed to civilian traffic for two days, but flights slowly resumed after. However, there was no returning to the pre-9/11 flying experience.

How many planes were stuck in Gander? ›

Thirty eight aircraft headed for the United States from Europe were diverted to the small Canadian town of Gander, Newfoundland. Almost 7000 passengers and crew were stranded there, doubling the town's population for several days.

Why is Gander called Gander? ›

The name "Gander" was taken from "Gander Lake", "Gander Bay" and "Gander River." The writer is not aware of who is responsible for naming those bodies of water after the magnificent gander.

Did Nick and Diane get married? ›

A few months and several long-distance phone cards later, he relocated from the U.K. to Texas to begin a new life with Diane. Surrounded by friends and family, they said "I do" in their backyard on Sept. 7, 2002 — almost a year to the day they met.

How much money does the show Come From Away make in a week? ›

In addition, whereas Come From Away generated $963,399 in ticket sales on Broadway last week, the show generated $1,426,142 in ticket sales on tour last week.

How long does Come From Away last? ›

Length: 1 hour and 30 minutes with no intermission. Recommended for ages 12 and older.

Which is better dear evan hansen or Come From Away? ›

Dear Evan Hansen” was named best musical and was the night's big winner with six awards in all. It also beat “Come From Away” for best original score, best book of a musical and best featured actress in a musical. “Come From Away” also lost out in the lighting design and choreography categories.

Is Come From Away sad? ›

In general the musical does not feel tragic or scary, but mostly uplifting (with sad moments), a show about humanity at its best. Good songs, good stories.

Is Come From Away closing? ›

After an impressive five-year run on Broadway, the cast of the Tony Award-winning musical will take their final bow on Sunday, Oct. 2 at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre.

Is there a book about the story of Come From Away? ›

Come From Away: Welcome to the Rock - a fully illustrated companion volume to the hit Tony Award-winning Broadway musical, featuring the book and lyrics for the first time in print, backstage stories and the real history behind the show's events, character design sketches, and songs that ended up on the cutting room ...

Who was in the original cast of Come From Away? ›

Come From Away Broadway Original Cast
  • Josh Breckenridge. Kevin J. Kevin T. Bob. Oz. Nick. (Standby)
  • Petrina Bromley. Bonnie & Others.
  • Geno Carr. Ensemble. Oz.
  • Jenn Colella. Ensemble. Beverley. Annette.
  • Susan Dunstan. Bonnie. Beulah. Beverly. Diane. Hannah. ...
  • Joel Hatch. Claude & Others.
  • Rodney Hicks. Ensemble. Bob.
  • Kendra Kassebaum. Janice.

Who was Come From Away written by? ›

Come from Away

Why is Come From Away so good? ›

Not only is Come From Away relevant in a political sense, but its heart and comforting emotion expressing that no matter how bad things get we will get through it feels perfect for the modern moment. A heartwarming musical. This heartwarming tale makes you want to become a better person.

Where can I watch Come From Away film? ›

Come From Away, a drama movie starring Petrina Bromley, Jenn Colella, and De'Lon Grant is available to stream now. Watch it on Apple TV on your Roku device.

Where can I watch Come From Away documentary? ›

Currently you are able to watch "Come from Away" streaming on Apple TV Plus.

Are any of the Come From Away cast from Newfoundland? ›

Petrina Bromley, or Bonnie in the original Broadway cast of “Come From Away,” is a fellow Newfoundlander and, from the beginning, she's been charmed by her home's portrayal in the musical.

How much money does Come From Away make in a week? ›

Broadway Sleeper Hit 'Come From Away' Turns a Profit

The show makes it into the black after months of posting weekly sales of well over $1 million.

Who is Janice in Come From Away? ›

Come from Away (2021) - Emily Walton as Janice Mosher and others - IMDb.

In what country does Come From Away take place? ›

Q: Where does the show take place? A: The show takes place in Newfoundland, an island off the far north east coast of Canada. The planes landed in the town of Gander, however, the musical shares stories from Gander and its neighboring towns of Glenwood, Lewisporte, Appleton, Gambo, and Norris Arm.

Is Come From Away verbatim? ›

COME FROM AWAY is a sophisticated musical theatre performance that incorporates aspects of ethno-drama and verbatim theatre.

Do understudies get paid? ›

Understudying roles also comes with additional pay. Swings, who understudy multiple ensemble tracks, earn $101.70 over the performer minimum, or $15 if a performer is only a partial swing. Understudying principal roles can add $54.50 to the weekly salary, while understudying chorus roles adds $15.

What do Broadway actors get paid? ›

Their Broadway salaries reflect this demand, as they are among the highest-paid performers in live theater. The average salary for a lead Broadway star is $4,380 per week, or $227,360 per year. The highest-paid Broadway stars can earn up to $8,000 per week, or $416,000 per year.

What is the most successful musical of all time? ›

The Lion King is the highest-grossing Broadway show of all time. Since its opening on Nov. 13, 1997, The Lion King has earned $1,539,318,552 and counting.

Will Come From Away be a movie? ›

Come from Away is a 2021 American-Canadian musical film comprising a live stage recording of Irene Sankoff and David Hein's 2017 musical of the same name, which tells the true story of 7,000 airline passengers who were stranded in a small town in Newfoundland, where they were housed and welcomed, after the September 11 ...

Are the characters in Come From Away based on real people? ›

The characters in Come From Away are all based on the real Gander residents that lived in the town during 9/11 and plane passengers who were diverted there and befriended the residents.

Will Come From Away be made into a movie? ›

And from this story of connection and compassion came “Come From Away,” already a celebrated stage musical and now a film streaming on Apple TV+ in time for the 20th anniversary of 9/11.

Who is Ali in Come From Away? ›

Thomas), who is frantic for news of her son, a New York City firefighter, Ali (Nick Duckart), a chef who comes under scrutiny for being a Muslim from the Middle East, Kevin J (Duckart again) and Kevin T (Jeremy Woodard), a gay couple whose relationship is tested by the experience, Bob (James Earl Jones II), who can't ...

Did Come From Away win a Tony? ›

A “Best Musical” winner all around the world, Come From Away began performances on Broadway on February 18, 2017, and officially opened to critical acclaim on March 12, 2017, earning 7 Tony Award nominations including Best Musical and winning the Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical (Christopher Ashley).

Who is the pilot in Come From Away? ›

Beverley Bass: Pioneering American Airlines pilot

Bass, now 69, says she had no idea all of that would make it into the musical. And she didn't find out until she saw the show for the first time. “I didn't know how prominent my role was in the show, and I was just starstruck, if you will,” she says.

Why do they sound Irish in Come From Away? ›

Newfoundland has indeed a deep Irish heritage which stretches back to the mid-18th century. These Irish roots are evident in the show's score, written by husband-and-wife team Irene Sankoff and David Hein.

How was Come From Away written? ›

In 2011, on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, Come From Away creators David Hein and Irene Sankoff traveled to Gander and recorded hours of interviews with local citizens and “come from aways” (the name Newfoundlanders give visitors—including the stranded passengers).

How long does Come From Away last? ›

Length: 1 hour and 30 minutes with no intermission. Recommended for ages 12 and older.

Videos

1. Meet the real-life 'Come From Away' pilot Beverly Bass
(Denver Center for the Performing Arts)
2. Welcome to the Rock! Here’s Five Fun Secrets About Broadway’s COME FROM AWAY
(Broadwaycom)
3. Come From Away — Official Trailer | Apple TV+
(Apple TV)
4. Come From Away performance 'Welcome To The Rock' | Olivier Awards 2019 with Mastercard
(OfficialLondonTheatre)
5. Actress in Broadway musical "Come From Away" meets real-life Gander inspiration
(CBC NL - Newfoundland and Labrador)
6. Meet the real people behind Come From Away
(OfficialLondonTheatre)
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