“You are here, at the end of a moment, at the end of the world.”
In March 2020, I was seated in the Broward Center for a production of “Mean Girls” on it’s tour stop in Ft. Lauderdale. After seeing Beetlejuice on Broadway the previous month I had expected 2020 to be the year I finally got back into musicals. I was ready to see “Come From Away” in April of that year. Now, I am here. Sitting in the Broward Center. In the midst of this moment, with a mask on my face in a crowded room, at the end of the world.
With the show’s tour rescheduled to November 2021, the Delta variant mostly quelled, the Tony winning “Come From Away” brought it’s beautiful message to the Broward Center as their first show back to the theaters. On opening night, they even distributed pins with “Welcome Back to the Rock” with the Playbills. After a few months of being able to catch the talent of local theater, it was bewildering to see a Broadway-level production once again. I went into this show entirely cold, not even watching the Apple + pro-shot to really be surprised by this musical’s moments.
The show is framed around the true story of Gander in Newfoundland, consisting of about 700,000 people. On 9/11, 38 planes were redirected to the small Canadian town as all flights were forced to be grounded. With the town’s population nearly doubling on the day of the tragedy, the community was called upon to step up and care for the “Come From Aways” as they had been called.
The cast consisted of twelve actors on stage, with a backing band of eight musicians rotating between contemporary instruments such as guitar and bass to more traditional Irish folk instruments like the bouzouki and uilleann pipes. With an extremely small cast, the multitude of characters both Newfoundlanders and Come From Aways was created by the performers trading off costumes, accents, and entire personalities. The talent of this group cannot be understated as the quick changes done on the fly truly developed their personas into entirely different characters on stage, some done right in front of the audience.
“Come From Away” is told at a breakneck pace, many songs leading one right into another leaving minimal moments for the audience to applaud or even take in the gravity of the situation. Notably, at the big moment “Me and the Sky,” before we even have a second to understand Beverly Bass’ plight, the actress receives a phone call from her boss about an impending hurricane headed for Newfoundland. The sung-through format is used effectively, with the grandstanding moments of shows like “Cats” and “Hamilton” traded for the experience of living in a moment. You are less an audience member, but rather another cast member witnessing these people’s lives unfold on a chaotic day. The show being on set on 9/11 doesn’t exactly drive the plot, it serves more as the framing for how the world was affected and how we responded.
After a year of lockdown, self-imposed or not, it’s bewildering to truly grasp what it was like to live in a moment that will be documented in history. Or, at least be forced for kids to memorize the minutiae of details for an AP U.S. History course. One of the things I was really beginning to get into before lockdowns was my work program that featured a meditation and mindfulness session. Being mindful helps me take stock of where I am and helps keep me grounded. Needless to say, going through this moment was the most dull and chaotic thing I’ve ever lived through. Being able to be mindful, less overwhelmed, being able to take a step back, breathe and say “I am here” helped me get through that year, missing people and experiences away from my screens.
Having been a young child on 9/11, I had a mild understanding of how discrimination affected not only my life, but the lives of those around me. I couldn’t really remember a time before you didn’t have to take your shoes off at the airport. But, I knew what was going on when I would see people in religious Muslim garments or having a name of Middle Eastern origin getting pulled aside at TSA. I was only about 6, but I knew that in spite of these messages of unity on TV, there was rampant discrimination in America. “Come From Away” paints a story of unity, coming together in a moment of chaos and tragedy. With the Newfoundland residents selflessly giving of their time, resources, and compassion, the show is a heartwarming portrayal of the moments where humanity truly shines in the dark. After 2020, one could argue that the worst of humanity was on full display, but perhaps that’s because of the hypervigilance of our age that only benefits a small sect of technocrats. The idea that we could find compassion and empathy in the worst of the world, brings such a beautiful sentiment that had me in tears. I fully recommend going to see “Come From Away” on it’s tour when it comes to your area.