The Surprisingly Funny 9/11 Musical 'Come From Away' Is Now In LA
After the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, U.S. airspace was shut down and 38 planes were diverted to Gander, Newfoundland in Canada. The true story of those planes is the focus of the Tony-winning musical Come From Away, now playing at downtown L.A.'s Ahmanson Theatre.
The show has a warmth to it, centered around characters from the town of 9,000 welcoming 7,000 stranded travelers into their midst. Despite the serious subject matter, the show finds a way to be respectful while finding serious humor in exploring the personal stories and relationships of everyone involved. It avoids feeling exploitative thanks to that focus on character. Watch the show's official trailer here:
But tragedy still sits below the surface throughout. Some of the visitors to the largely white Canadian town face discrimination, with the show depicting cultural clashes and giving voice to the stranded visitors. And several characters have their own connections to the lives lost on that day — whenever the attacks are directly addressed, rather than just the situation these stranded travelers find themselves in, the humor moves to the side.
The music features few major solo outings, with 9 of its 15 songs credited simply to the company and only one completely solo song, but each one plays a key role in the storytelling. It's not sung through, but has music at least underscoring much of its run time.
One of the biggest standout solo moments comes with the story of pilot Beverley Bass, with the song "Me and the Sky" telling her story as one of American Airlines' first women pilots. You can watch a clip of that song, performed by actress Becky Gulsvig, below:
The opening night Los Angeles crowd enthusiastically received the show, with small moments getting a big response. They also gave it an instant standing ovation once the curtain call began. The show has a resonance with current cultural conflicts over people getting along and how they react to people who are different and unfamiliar.
In case you doubt the veracity of the stories, the actors brought out some of their real-life counterparts on stage during the L.A. opening night curtain call. The Center Theater Group, which runs the Ahmanson, held an event earlier this year where they interviewed the show's co-writers, as well as show inspirations pilot Beverley Bass and then-Gander Mayor Claude Elliott.
"We knew we'd have some visitors, and we just wanted to make their stay as comfortable as possible while they were staying with us," Elliott said.
He led the efforts to prepare for all those people, mobilizing volunteers to put together 7,000 box lunches, as shown in the production.
You can listen to those interviews here:
The show was written by two Canadians, David Hein and Irene Sankoff, who were recruited to tell this story. As Canadians staying in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001, they felt their own connection to the story. They visited Gander for the 10th anniversary of what happened in 2011, getting to know the town and talking with both locals and visitors who came back for that anniversary. The anniversary makes an appearance in the musical's conclusion.
The show was workshopped in Ontario, but had its initial run as a co-production between the Seattle Repertory Theater and Southern California's own La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego, before heading to Broadway. It was nominated for seven Tony Awards in 2017 including Best Musical, winning for Best Direction of a Musical.
See Come From Away at the Ahmanson Theatre from now through Jan. 6 — before the big-screen adaptation, currently in the works. It runs an hour and 40 minutes without an intermission.
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