Jim DeFede’s The Day the World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland told the incredible story of passengers from 38 flights who found themselves stuck in Newfoundland immediately following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. DeFede’s book was adapted into Come From Away, an award-winning Broadway musical written by Irene Sankoff and David Hein. And now that extraordinary musical is accessible to a wider audience with a filmed version of Come From Away arriving on Apple TV+ on September 10, 2021.
This September 11th marks the 20th anniversary of the devastating attack on America which left thousands dead and thousands more mourning the loss of loved ones. In the weeks leading up to the 20th anniversary, a wealth of documentaries, docuseries, and specials have provided insight into the events of that day while honoring those who lost their lives as well as the heroes who risked theirs in the aftermath of the attack.
Come From Away, based on true events, takes a more intimate approach to the global tragedy. The story begins with the fine folks of Gander, Newfoundland describing their town via an uplifting number titled “Welcome to the Rock.” Gander’s small-town vibe shines through, and the close-knit community is established as a place few willingly come to visit now that international air travel can be done without a pit stop on the island to fuel up.
However, when all air traffic is suddenly grounded the town of Gander finds its population almost doubling in size with the unexpected arrival of 7,000 passengers from around the world. The townsfolk leap into action, preparing thousands of meals, collecting supplies from baby food to toilet paper, and opening their homes – and hearts – to these confused and scared strangers.
Sankoff and Hein’s story focuses on one planeload of passengers and crew in particular – an American Airlines plane piloted by Beverley Bass (the first female pilot hired by American Airlines). Key characters from the ground in Gander and from that plane intermingle and in doing so we learn a little about the lives of the big-hearted citizens of Gander and “the plane people,” as the Gander folks dub them.
Come From Away’s incredibly moving and exquisitely brought to life with minimal props on a nearly naked stage. A few tables and a dozen or so chairs are all that’s used to fill in for the interior of a plane, the inside of a local pub, a school, and other settings. The actors each play multiple roles, sometimes changing over within a single song. The songs evoke the full spectrum of emotions, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t shed a few unexpected tears as a newbie to the subject matter. (I haven’t read DeFede’s book or seen a live production of Come From Away but now I’m anxious to do both.)
Directed by Christopher Ashley, this filmed version of the critically acclaimed Broadway musical is a first-class production. Disney+’s filmed version of Hamilton! set the bar high; Come From Away is equally as impressive in film form. It’s impeccably shot, genuinely moving, and the cast is nothing short of brilliant.
Shot at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre in New York City in front of an audience consisting of 9/11 survivors and frontline workers, Come From Away’s film version is a poignant and uplifting story of complete strangers exhibiting qualities we hope reside within each of us. For two hours, the talented ensemble portraying Gander and the plane people makes us feel optimistic that, despite our differences, everything is going to be okay.
Starring: Petrina Bromley, Jenn Colella, De’Lon Grant, Joel Hatch, Tony LePage, Caesar Samayoa, Q. Smith, Astrid Van Wieren, Emily Walton, Jim Walton, Sharon Wheatley, and Paul Whitty
Release Date: September 10, 2021 on Apple TV+
Production Companies: eOne, Junkyard Dog Productions, RadicalMedia, and Alchemy Production Group