Four years ago, in the basement rehearsal halls of the 5th Avenue Theatre, a new musical about the experiences of nearly 6,600 air travelers who were diverted to Gander, Newfoundland, after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, started on the long road to Broadway. Even then, no one was quite sure if a play about 9/11, let alone a musical, would resonate with audiences.
It turns out Come From Away and its heartwarming message of hope in the midst of tragedy and uncertainty delighted theatergoers across the country. After “graduating” from the 5th Avenue’s New Works Program, the work of cocreators David Hein and Irene Sankoff became a coproduction of La Jolla Playhouse and Seattle Repertory Theatre. It opened at La Jolla in June 2015 and Seattle Rep in November, then went on to Washington, D.C., and Toronto in 2016 before making its Broadway debut to critical acclaim in March 2017.
In a stroke of theatrical synergy, a new North American touring production of Come From Away begins at the 5th Avenue Theatre next month. “The 5th Avenue Theatre is where great musicals are born,” said Producing Artistic Director Bill Berry in announcing plans to have Come From Away open the 5th Avenue’s 2018-19 season. “In the world of musical theater, ‘Made at the 5th’ is a mark of distinction that means artistic excellence and originality.”
Having won a Tony Award and many other plaudits, Come From Away has become the little musical that could go far. In addition to the North American touring production, another is currently playing in Toronto. London and Melbourne get productions next year, and the creators are working on a film adaptation.
In his review of the production, Ben Brantley, co-chief theater critic for The New York Times, gushed, “Try, if you must, to resist the gale of good will that blows out of Come From Away. … But even the most stalwart cynics may have trouble staying dry-eyed during this portrait of heroic hospitality under extraordinary pressure.”