The Rapidian

Come From Away Tells Heartfelt, Life-Affirming Stories In The Wake Of 9/11

Come From Away, brought onstage by Broadway Grand Rapids, is less about tragedy than what we can build in its remains.

/Broadway Grand Rapids

It's a sobering thought: that there are people born after September 11th who are now old enough to drink. The tragedy defined a generation, and not only in the United States. On September 12th, 2001, the main headline of France's Le Monde read, "Nous sommes tous américains," a declaration of solidarity as moving now as when it was made -- we are all Americans.

Before taking my seat for Come From Away, a musical inspired by events taking place in 9/11's aftermath, I saw on display copies of The Grand Rapids Press, preserved for over two decades. I thought of those people born after the towers came down, and how the display might strike them as interesting but distant, the way photographs of JFK's death did me.

Those thoughts, coupled with the then-uncertain mideterm election results, left me in a sober mood as the show began. Come From Away is not a sober show, which isn't to say it's unserious. It isn't. Instead, it's tipsy with life. It's a big, rollicking, life-affirming show, suffused with humor and heart, as eager to follow the trail of a developing romance as it is to linger in sadness.

It begins with "Welcome To The Rock," a song intended to introduce us to Gander, a town in Newfoundland. Its residents are busy (aren't we all?) but, we feel, good -- from the police officer who lets people off with a warning to the mayor grappling with a bus strike. Into this town of roughly 9,000 people will soon land planes bearing another 7,000 -- travelers from around the world forced to land due to the sudden restriction of airspace, a restriction necessitated by a terrorist act the passengers don't yet realize has taken place.

The residents spring into action, gathering food, toilet paper, medicine. You get the feeling this is the most excitement Gander's seen in years. Meanwhile, the passengers remain on their planes, forbidden to land. Most of them begin to drink, and some begin to spiral. Such was the dexterity of the performers that you could forget that each played a dual role. The same person played both Gander's eager reporter and the American Airlines flight attendant, but she alternated accents so professionally that you could hardly even notice.

Over a day passes before the passengers are let out. Now they have room to stretch, and the opportunity to call loved ones. What they don't have is clarity. Airspace remains restricted, and they don't know when they'll be going home. So they talk, and drink, and kiss a fish. Having been thrust together, they begin to learn about each other.

That setup allows for a wide range of songs, and the show takes full advantage of that. Best among them may be "Me and the Sky." It's a life in miniature, the life of a female pilot who navigated the turbulence of sexism, and who, older and well-respected, has found herself unexpectedly grounded by the actions of madmen. Less individual, but still moving, is "Prayer." The song begins with the Prayer of St. Francis before weaving in words of devotion from other faiths.

Earlier, I said that Come From Away is a funny, heart-filled show, and it is. (The grill adventure still makes me smile). You'll laugh. You may cry, too; I did, anyway. But it was only because I was moved to remember how good people can be when goodness is badly needed.

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