As people around the world remember the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Apple TV+ has another way to commemorate the 20th anniversary with the screen-version of the popular musical Come From Away (debuting on Sept. 10).
This is a filmed version of a live performance of the show, which tells the story of 7,000 people that were stranded in Gander, Newfoundland after all flights into the U.S. were grounded on 9/11. While we go through what these stranded passengers were feeling, a core aspect of the story is centred around the generosity and kindness of the people of Gander who took in these “come from aways.”
“I think it's been such a gift to be able to do the show,” co-writer David Hein told Yahoo Canada.
“It reminds you that there really are more people helping out there than are trying to hurt, and we have more in common than we think. I think it's important to find stories like this and remind yourself over and over again, it's been good for us and I hope it's been good for other people.”
Fellow co-writer Irene Sankoff said that through her journey with Hein, her husband, to Gander, the goal was to capture the “magic” of all the people in the town.
'Tell the truth of that situation'
For director Christopher Ashley, as the world evolves and things change, including pandemics, the story of kindness and generosity, and “taking care of each other” continues to be “necessary to tell.”
“I feel like our job, to make the play and now the film, is to tell the truth of that situation and those people,” Ashley said.
“But the world keeps changing so audiences keep looking at it through new lenses, whether that's the lens of their experience of 9/11 and their own story of that day, or now, many people were at their home for a year and a half, and are just starting to come back out and rejoin the communities.”
'I have been the Newfoundlander'
While there may have been 7,000 "come from aways" in Gander, 12 actors, playing multiple roles, tell a more curated story that represents this group of people.
The stories told include a mother of a New York first responder, two strangers who started a romantic relationship in Gander and an Egyptian restaurateur who is confronted with misplaced concern, suspicion and discrimination following the attacks, to name a few.
One of the highlights for many of the actors was actually being able to go to Newfoundland and meet the people that inspire their characters, and letting locals see them perform.
“Going to Gander and being able to perform, and tell this story in front of the community that we are speaking about, is life changing,” actor Caesar Samayoa said.
Fellow actor Joel Hatch shared with Yahoo Canada that, while the cast members were performing in Gander at the local hockey arena, they made a pact not to cry, but the second all 3,000 people in the audience came to their feet, the waterworks started.
From actor Q. Smith’s perspective, there are three things people who watch Come From Away can take with them.
“I think you can look at the show and say, I have felt discriminated against,...I have felt like the odd man out, you can say to yourself I have been the discriminator...and then you see the third person, the Ganderite, the Newfoundlander, saying come in, how can I help you,” Smith explained.
“I have been the person, also, who has looked and judged someone because of the way they look or the way they sound. I have also been the person that has been discriminated against. But now I can confidently say, because of the show and just life, that I have been the Newfoundlander, opened my door and opened my heart.”
This performance, in particular, was filmed following the COVID-19 lockdown, when the first post-lockdown audience returned to Broadway, which just heightened the emotions for the cast.
“I've had two children and those were extremely joyous experiences, I would rank this experience as right up there," actor Sharon Wheatley explained to Yahoo Canada. "I know that sounds dramatic, but we were together on chat and on Zoom for so long, and when the world shut down, and Broadway shut down the way that it did, and the number of people in our community that got sick, it was very hard to explain to other people exactly what you felt."
“So to have this community of people who knew, who had been through this with you, and then to finally be reunited in this way, in this incredible gift of getting to do this film, it was everything.”
For anyone who is looking for something to cut through some of the historically-focused 9/11 content, Come From Away provides a warmer story, a story of hope, that many need after a time of tragedy.
“We often think of our show as a 9/12 story, meaning we don't really take on the attack on New York, it's really about what people can do in the wake of a very serious tragedy,” director Ashley explained.
“It's a really warm story... I love telling a story about people behaving so well, at such a terrible moment.”