On September 11th, 2001, pilots of passenger planes in the sky across the U.S. were delivered the worst possible news: there had been a terrorist hijacking. This caused the FAA to close the U.S. airspace and order all passenger planes to land as soon as reasonably possible, either making an emergency landing or heading back to where they had left from. Pilots had 30 seconds to make a decision otherwise air controllers would do it for them. Thus, Operation Yellow Ribbon was then initiated by Canada to assist in diverting all passenger planes to places away from possible targets in the U.S. Approximately 238 flights were diverted to airports across Canada. 38 of those flights with around 7,000 passengers and 19 animals among them were sent to Gander International Airport in Gander, Newfoundland. Those aboard the 38 planes were stranded in Gander for five days. Despite feeling terrified, hopeless, and helpless, they weren’t alone – for the citizens of Gander responded with hospitality, generosity, and kindness.
This event is the basis for the plot of Come From Away, a new musical that just opened on March 12th at the Schoenfeld Theatre and whose cast album was released digitally on March 10th. Starring Jenn Colella (If/Then) and an ensemble of eleven others, they portray hundreds of characters, from Gander citizens to the come from aways (the people of Gander’s name for those stranded) set to a score written by Irene Sankoff and David Hein that showcases Gaelic, rock, and folk influences.
Every song is sure to give you chills – it’s hard not to get wrapped up in the magnitude of the trauma the come from aways experience, as I’m sure anyone who remembers that day can also relate to. Songs like “28 Hours / Wherever We Are”, “Lead Us Out of the Night”, and “On The Edge” are examples of this – in the previous song mentioned, the come from aways are glued to the news, not willing to sleep or do anything else. Similarly, Jenn Colella as now-retired pilot Beverley Bass may bring a tear to your eye as she belts “Me And The Sky”, which encompasses Bass’ feelings regarding the sexism she faced when becoming the first female American captain and how her – and everyone else’s – world view has changed after 9/11. Contrastingly, the lighter side of the situation is shown in the songs “In The Bar / Heave Away” and “Screech In” when the come from aways are initiated as honorary Newfoundlanders – if they kiss a fish first.
Speaking as someone who was too young to have any memory of the attacks, Come From Away transported me to a different time full of emotions that just aren’t tangible if you read about them in a history book. But if you remember, it’s different. As the come from aways put it, “something’s missing”. Perhaps, if the pain of that day is too much to bear, you’d want steer far away from this cast album – a perfectly valid reason to do so. Although, I’d argue that Come From Away isn’t about 9/11; it’s about the days that followed, and what we all should do for each other in times of strife. It attempts to take tragedy and remind us all that there was some good in the world on that day. If you take one thing from Come From Away to heart, it’s a line from the final song on the cast album: we all come from everywhere, we all come from away.
The Come From Away cast album is now available digitally via Amazon Music, Spotify, and iTunes and will be released physically on March 24th. For more information, go to comefromaway.com.