Here’s a Gander, Newfoundland joke:
“Come on in—the door’s open.”
This warmhearted variation on a knock,knock joke was told at the ten-year reunion of the people involved in the real-life event at the heart of this marvelous musical, Come From Away, currently at the Academy of Music on its nationwide tour. The husband-and-wife team, Irene Sankoff and David Hein wrote the book, music and lyrics— a remarkable accomplishment.
The plot is based on true events: 38 planes that were due to land in various US destinations on September 11 were diverted to the tiny town of Gander, Newfoundland (pop. 10,000). American air space was closed for five days. The generous town found places for 7000 people to sleep, food for them to eat, and songs for them to sing (there’s a terrific offstage band). They clean out the supermarket: diapers, toothpaste, tampons. They gather all the grills from eveybody’s backyards to have a gigantic barbecue. They find people who know languages to translate.
This appropriately diverse—every shape, size, color, age—and talented cast of twelve actors play both the townspeople and the plane people, and we get to know a variety of characters: a mother on board the plane is desperate to phone her son who is a New York City firefighter. A Texas woman and an English man fall in love. A gay couple do not meet the social judgment they expect. The Egyptian man who is subjected to suspicion and a body search turns out to be an internationally renowned chef. Dogs, cats and chimpanzees are rescued from the planes’ holds by the head of the SPCA, a team of local doctors don surgical gloves and clean the bathrooms, and the mayor figures the best way to refrigerate so much food is to use the hockey rink. (Of course they have a hockey rink: this is Canada.)
But the show always remembers its subject is a serious one, and the next to last number, “Something’s Missing,” is deeply stirring and mournful. But humanity is not only openhearted but it’s also resilient, and the show ends ten years later with an irresistibly lively finale, “Welcome to the Rock.” We’ve all been invited, courtesy of Come From Away, and, at least for a little while, the door feels open.
[National tour at Academy of Music, Broad and Locust Streets] October 22–November 3, 2019; kimmelcenter.org