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Celebrating An Incredible Act Of Kindness 
In the musical Come From Away, one town opens its welcoming arms––wide––in the wake of a huge tragedy 
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During the brief stay in Gander, at least one romantic relationship developed, and (below) the townspeople tried to keep them entertained with various activities. 
Brett Beiner Photography
The multitalented cast of Come From Away highlights a heartwarming story in the Tony Award-winning musical at the Cadillac Palace Theatre.
  WHAT does a quiet community of 9,000 people do when, out of nowhere, 7,000 confused, frightened, frantic and angry guests literally descend on the area after their plane is ordered to land at their smallish airport? Well, if you’re the people of Gander, Newfoundland, you roll out the red carpet of hospitality, trying everything you can do to accommodate and make the best of a bad situation for all involved. 
    That’s what happened following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and the subsequent events in “the small town that welcomed the world” are the foundation for the much talked-about, celebrated musical Come From Away, directed by Tony Award-winner Christopher Ashley, and running through August 18 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre.
    Written by Tony Award-nominees Irene Sankoff and David Hein, Come From Away touchingly highlights the emotions that engulfed Gander and changed it forever. The chaos created a transformation that began after the 2001 attacks in the U.S. prompted the FAA to close airspace and ground all aircraft across the United States. The unprecedented move forced the rerouting of incoming international flights to airports in Canada, leaving thousands of passengers stranded there until the airspace was reopened five days later.
   On stage, Ashley effectively captures the anguish and fear associated with the historic moment and brings to the forefront the what-do-we-do-next attitude of Gander authorities and residents who are facing a logistical nightmare. In a town with only 500 hotel rooms and two policemen, 38 jumbo jets diverted to Gander were grounded nearly a week, and its people had to worry about getting enough food to feed the passengers, find housing to shelter them, deal with the challenging language barriers, address medical needs and perhaps most of all prepare for the inevitable unknowns that would develop in such an emergency situation.
   The Tony Award-winning musical paints an appealing picture of a community where the doors to homes and cars remain unlocked, practically everyone knows everyone, and kindness is woven into the people’s basic fabric. They housed the passengers in their homes; they invited them to dinner; they gave them clothing and other personal items; and they did practically everything they could do to ease the situation for “the plane people,” whose lives were unexpectedly and drastically dropped into the depths of uncertainty. 
   The multitalented, 12-member cast boldly embraces multiple roles in a presentation where music emphatically tells much of the story through songs such as “Somewhere in the Middle of Nowhere,” "Welcome to the Rock," “On the Edge,” “38 Planes," "Screech In" and “I Am Here.” And even though, characters change roles quickly and often, the on-stage flow remains fluid with no interruption to continuity, thanks to the professionalism of performers such as Megan McGinnis, Harter Clingman, Becky Gulsvig, Emily Walton, James Earl Jones II, Kevin Carolan, Andrew Samonsky, Chamblee Ferguson, Nick Duckart, Danielle K. Thomas, Julie Johnson and Christine Toy Johnson.
   Although Come From Away focuses primarily on the downside of the situation, there are lighter moments, spotlighted, for instance, by a night in a bar when some of the passengers excitedly go through the process of becoming a “Newfoundlander,” which involves a certain amount of drinks and kissing a fish. Plus, love blossoms unexpectedly between two unlikely passengers, one from London and one from Texas.
   By the time things had cleared up enough for the planes to get back into the skies, the “come from aways”––as Newfoundlanders call anyone not from the island––the stranded passengers and Ganderites had created new, enduring relationships, and on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 people came together in Gander to not only honor what was lost in the U.S., but to commemorate what was found in Gander.
   In the end, Come From Away is a feel-good piece of history where, under incredible circumstances, Gander welcomes strangers from just about every state in the U.S., Austria, Israel, France, Senegal, Poland, Spain, Thailand, the Philippines, England, Uganda, Italy, Germany, Belgium, United Arab Emirates and Russia. They embraced them all. As the Newfoundlanders say simply: “No matter where you’re from, everybody comes from away."
Photographs by Matthew Murphy
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