ST. JOHN’S, N.L. – Bringing the hit musical “Come From Away” home to Newfoundland for the first time is a bit like bringing a new romantic partner home to meet your family, says actor Petrina Bromley.
“There’s always that fear of, ‘Oh gosh, I just hope this goes well, because I love this person, and I love these people, and hopefully they will all love each other,” Bromley said in a telephone interview from Gander, N.L., the central Newfoundland town in which the show is set.
Bromley was the musical’s sole cast member from Newfoundland during a run of more than five years on Broadway. She said it’s “surreal” but incredibly important to her to be bringing a new iteration of the show to Gander for an eight-week run. Every performance is sold out, including the previews beginning Friday.
“On a very basic level, I just think it’s so important for the show to be here, and to be seen by the people who inspired it,” Bromley said.
“Come From Away” tells the story of how people in Gander dropped everything to care for more than 6,500 passengers aboard 38 planes diverted to the town’s airport after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks grounded air traffic. Residents opened their houses, community halls and businesses to the stranded people, offering them food, clothes and comfort during a terrifying time that ultimately changed parts of the world.
The show was a surprise smash. When the curtains closed after its final show at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre in New York City last October, it was the 49th longest-running show in Broadway history, and the longest-running production in the theatre’s 105-year history. The play hasbeen staged across North America and as far away as Australia and Argentina.
The Gander production adds the tag line “You Are Here” to the title. It will be the first fully staged presentation of the musical in its hometown, though locals have been treated to alternative iterations, said Michael Rubinoff, the play’s originating producer. In 2016, the original Broadway cast performed the show for residents in a local hockey rink. Last September, the cast of the Canadian production performed the show’s songs, also at the arena.
This time around, the musical will be staged at Gander’s Arts and Culture Centre. Tickets sold out within months, particularly after the local Gander cast — which includes nine Newfoundlanders — was announced early this year, said officials at the venue.
Rubinoff and his team can see from purchasers’ postal and zip codes that ticket-buyers come from all over the world — the United States, Europe, Japan, Israel and Argentina, he said.
Mounting a full productionof the show in Gander has long been a dream, Rubinoff said. Newfoundlanders are often modest about how they helped the stranded 9/11 passengers. Sometimes they say, “’We don’t get why this is a big deal. All we did was make some sandwiches,” he recounted. The play shows them exactly what the fuss was about.
“I hope they will see it as a celebration, especially this production. This is Newfoundland’s production,” he said. “When the actors sing ‘You are here’ in the score, this is the only place in the world where that will actually be true,” he said.
The songs and the script in the Gander production are the same as the Broadway version, which was written by Canadians Irene Sankoff and David Hein. But the way those words and songs are presented on stage is different.
The Broadway version was directed by an American, Christopher Ashley, earning him a Tony Award in 2017. The Gander version is directed by Newfoundlander Jillian Keiley, who is known for innovative stage design and striking visuals that bring a unique depth to her productions.
Under Ashley’s direction, the story was seen more through the lens of a “come from away,” a term used in Newfoundland and Labrador — and across Atlantic Canada — to describe people from outside their provinces.
But in the Gander show, “you’re seeing it more from the lens of being the islanders, the Newfoundlanders and Labradorians,” Bromley said.
Both Bromley and Rubinoff said the show’s commercial success was a shock. Rubinoff described it as being beyond his “wildest of wild dreams.” But they understand why this story from a little town on an island in the North Atlantic struck a chord with so many people.
“I think it’s because it’s a story, a simple story in the end, about people helping people,” Bromley said. “I think we watch it, and we all hope in our hearts that if we were in that situation, we would rise to it in the way that the people here did.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 5, 2023.