In the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, North American air space was abruptly shut down, forcing planes already in flight to land in places unplanned. More than forty flights were routed to the tiny remote town of Gander, Newfoundland, which had an airport far larger than its population of about 11,000 justified, owing to its past use as a refueling stop for transatlantic flights. In an instant, the population nearly doubled, as just under 7,000 passengers had a forced stay for several days, until the skies reopened. The residents of the town rose to the occasion, welcoming and caring for these strangers from other lands in their schools and in their homes with nary a hesitation.
Unlike the central narrative of that day, which is one of a profoundly evil act met by equally astonishing acts of heroics, the events in the Tony-winning musical “Come From Away” are about a secondary effect of the events—only one character, the mother of a NYC firefighter, has any direct connection to what has happened. Accordingly, the show is an unabashed feel-good 9/11 musical, a phrase almost as unseemly as “Springtime for Hitler.”
With razor-sharp direction that deploys a minimal set by Broadway standards in imaginative and provocative ways, powerful performances as the cast of twelve depicts both the locals and the visitors, and a heartwarming, life-affirming portrayal of humanity across borders, the show delivers on its promise. It’s a night of unabashed uplift at the theater.
Where other shows, like the magnificent “The Music Man” at the Goodman down the street, portray citizens of small towns as mostly small-minded rubes, “Come From Away” mines its parochial material for outstanding humor, showing these small-town residents as inherently heroic in the smallest ways, and far more open-minded in accepting the diversity of their temporary residents—including a gay couple and a devout Muslim—than their mostly big-city guests.
I choked up several times, a sentiment shared by those around me who exploded in a standing ovation at the end. But I also cried silently at the present-day outcome of what once seemed like such a blossoming of international brotherhood in the face of despicable acts, as I thought about the abandonment of these basic human values—what we like to think are intrinsic American values—now being promoted by the leader of the United States itself. (Brian Hieggelke)
Broadway In Chicago at Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 West Randolph, broadwayinchicago.com, $35-$105. Through August 18.