Exactly one year ago I saw Come From Away live in person. I had seen a bootleg about two years earlier and listened to the soundtrack many, many, many times, but seeing it live was so much cooler. The musical is so well done and so powerful with its simple sets and energetic cast. I had to stop listening to it at work last year because too often I was tearing up at my desk. If you don’t know what Come From Away is, I’m about to change your life, because it’s a musical about 9/11 and the several thousand people diverted to Newfoundland, Canada when the air space closed. It sounds like a dreadful musical idea, but it’s actually very sweet and uplifting because it covers how all the small-town Canadians rallied together to provide food, housing, clothing, and more to so many scared and confused travellers.
I was in kindergarten when 9/11 happened, so I don’t remember anything about the tragedy. In that sense, I’m kind of disconnected to it because I don’t remember where I was that day or how things changed, but I think Come From Away does such a good job of conveying all the necessary emotions, so even young people can understand the gravity of the event as well as how wonderful the Newfoundlanders were.
Anyway, Come From Away has become a favourite musical of mine. So I was eager last month to get my hands on the behind-the-scenes book called Come From Away: Welcome To The Rock. It gave so much insight into the musical from the interviews the creators did to the costumes the actor wore to the grant the government issued so the show could be made, and I always love learning about stuff like that. I think I cried more times reading the book than I did seeing the show. But there was one part in the book where the mayor of Gander said some townspeople don’t love the attention Newfoundland has gotten and they think it’s a capitalization of not just the tragedy but also their involvement, which shouldn’t be a big deal. I don’t think this is a completely unfounded or unpopular opinion. I’m sure there were so many of those Newfoundlanders who didn’t think twice about helping out during that hell week. I’m sure there were many who would have been perfectly fine if they never got any recognition or thanks for their efforts. I’m sure there are New Yorkers or other people directly affected by 9/11 that aren’t thrilled that such a devastating event is being sung about for hefty theatre prices. But that doesn’t mean that Come From Away and the publicity the Canadian towns have gotten isn’t warranted, because I think the musical is so important and it’s so great that people are paying attention.
Our world is full of garbage and hate and bad news. Even when good things happen, it’s often quiet or overshadowed or soon forgotten. So I’m not mad that this story stands out. This is a story that highlights kindness from strangers in a moment of global tragedy. It’s not just a 9/11 musical, it’s a kindness musical. And, as that book made clear many times, the writers were well aware of the sensitive topic and made many, many edits to ensure anyone who saw it understood that they weren’t glorifying the catastrophe and that they certainly were not in it to make money, as theater productions rarely result in big bucks. They were simply showing the pure side of humanity in the darkest hours. These were real people and real stories and real quotes, and that side should be celebrated. Especially because such kindness may not have happened anywhere else. Canada has a reputation for niceness, but I really can’t imagine my community a few provinces over coming together the way those Newfoundlanders did. I can’t imagine my parents letting strangers come in and take a shower in our house. And, it’s worth noting, this was before social media. So the Newfoundlanders weren’t vlogging it or trying to go viral with their good deeds the way some people do now. This musical is sharing stories that otherwise may never have gotten told.
Come From Away is a show you need to see. Aside from being so creative and unique as a show, it’s very uplifting and raw. It’s still playing in NYC and Toronto and I know tours have gone to Australia and London and it’s even headed to China this year, which is so wonderful because it means the story is being shared with so many people who also didn’t know what went on in Newfoundland that week.
As a Canadian, this show made me so proud. I’m not saying every act of kindness deserves a musical from now on or that we should focus on the nice people in every tragedy. But what we should do is let this musical be a reminder that there are good people in the world and that maybe this blue and green rock floating in space isn’t as hopeless as it seems. I think the nature of our society has made us have to be a little selfish to survive, but Come From Away made me at least want to be better, tragedy or not.
If you have a chance to go see the musical, please do, because you will not regret it.