Newfoundland takes over Broadway with Gander's 9/11 story

Newfoundland takes over Broadway with Gander’s 9/11 story

NEW YORK — The Canadian smash musical “Come From Away” has scored widespread critical raves in its official Broadway debut.

Created by husband-and-wife team Irene Sankoff and David Hein, the story is set in Gander, N.L., in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

The remote East Coast town saw its population double in size after local residents sheltered 6,579 passengers and crew from 38 planes diverted when U.S. air space was closed following the tragedy.

Sunday marked the show’s official opening on Broadway, which had been in previews at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater in New York since mid-February.

Prior to its arrival on the Great White Way, the homegrown production had earned strong reviews as it criss-crosssed the continent with shows in La Jolla, Calif., Washington, D.C., Seattle and Toronto. Broadway theatre critics followed suit with a series of mostly favourable stories in praise of the musical.

“Try, if you must, to resist the gale of goodwill that blows out of ‘Come From Away,’ the big bear hug of a musical that opened on Sunday night,” wrote New York Times chief theatre critic Ben Brantley in branding the show a critics’ pick.

“Even the most stalwart cynics may have trouble staying dry-eyed during this portrait of heroic hospitality under extraordinary pressure.”

Theatre critic Marilyn Stasio of trade publication Variety described “Come From Away” as “that feel-good show that audiences constantly pine for,” and called the production “modest,” “earnest” and “life-affirming.”

The true-life tales of humour, hospitality and heroism collected by Sankoff and Hein during a month in Gander helped inspire “Come From Away.” Several critics appeared to draw parallels between the welcoming attitudes reflected by Canadians following 9/11 and the treatment of immigrants and outsiders in the current political climate.

The Washington Post theatre critic Peter Marks wrote that the “effervescent musical, enveloped in Canadian goodwill, is an antidote for what ails the American soul.”

“One has only to read about terrified immigrants, fleeing across the United States’s northern border in search of sanctuary, or to reflect on Canada’s vigorous and civilized prime minister, Justin Trudeau, to become sentimental about a place where generosity still seems to be a growth industry,” he wrote. “Sankoff and Hein’s portrait of Gander will only intensify that longing.”

Other critics were more lukewarm on “Come From Away.”

Jesse Green of New York magazine expressed skepticism in the portrayal of Gander and its residents as “almost teeth-grindingly sweet, with its quaint traditions, Irishy accents, and complete lack of hostility.”

“If there were townspeople who did not relish the chance to lose five days of sleep helping the strangers, we do not meet them; it is only among the passengers, most of them Americans, that we are shown distrust, prejudice, and a sense of entitlement,” Green wrote.

“Indeed, the theme and organizing principle of the piece is the change caused by the forced interaction. Not among the Canadians, of course; saints cannot be elevated any higher.”

Despite his many reservations over the production, Green wrote that while the musical may not be Broadway’s best, “it’s surely the goodest.”

“That it may succeed in making the audience cry is a testament to its fine qualities, which are sufficient to position ‘Come From Away’ as a possible feel-good hit.”

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