On 11th September 2001, two American Airlines planes and one United Airlines plane crashed into the World Trade Centres and the Pentagon. Another United Airlines plane was heading towards Washington, D.C. before it ended up crashing into a field in Stonycreek Township after it’s passengers thwarted the hijacker. 2996 people were killed, and another 25000 were injured.

Almost anyone you meet will know this story. Whether they were alive when it happened or not, everybody remembers what happened on 9/11. However, there is another story that many have never heard, and that is what happened to all the other plane passengers and crew on this grievous day.
When the first plane hit the North Tower, many people, including the air traffic controllers, assumed it was an accident. However, when the second plane crashed into the South Tower, it became clear that this was something much more evil than an unfortunate mishap…

This was a terrorist attack.

Officials at the U.S. FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) acted immediately. Ben Sliney, the FAA National Operations Manager, who was working his first day, closed the American Airspace, meaning that no plane could fly over the U.S.A. until they opened it again. Planes were diverted to many airports across Canada, and a few to Mexico if they had departed from South America.  Most planes, however, were diverted to Gander Airport in Newfoundland as it had once been the main staging point for the movement of Allied aircraft to Europe during World War II. From there, approximately 7000 passengers, pilots and crew members were taken by school bus to the town of Gander.

Come From Away is a musical that has been in the making since 2011, when the writers of the Canadian musical, Irene Sankoff and David Hein, joined the 10 year reunion of everybody who had been grounded in Gander on 9/11. It was first produced in Oakville, Ontario in 2013, after having been workshopped in 2012. The show has had record-breaking runs at La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego, California, the Seattle Repertory Theatre, the Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. and the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto.

Now, the show runs on Broadway, in the West End, on a tour in the U.S.A., in Toronto and in Melbourne, and is set to tour China in 2020, beginning in May in Shanghai.

Come From Away is an extremely moving and cleverly-done piece of theatre. Although only twelve actors are on stage, alongside two tables, twelve chairs and an Irish-Canadian band, there is not a dry eye left in the audience by the time the 100 minutes of beautiful story-telling and fantastic music (all written by Sankoff and Hein) are over.  You will laugh, you will cry, you will watch with utter amazement as you realise or remember the intensity of that horrific day and the week that followed.
‘It is a stunning piece of art that handles the terror attacks of September 11 sensitively, balanced with a large dose of humour and optimism’ says Anne Moland Syme, who saw the show in NYC four days ago.

If you are not yet convinced, you may be interested to know that six of the twelve original cast members, who have been with the show since that workshop in 2012, are still playing the same characters today in the Schoenfeld Theatre in New York City. Until November 10, this number was eight, however this was Geno Carr and Jenn Colella’s last night welcoming people to the rock (the opening number Come From Away is Welcome To The Rock so staff and fans often welcome people who have recently seen the show for the first time “to the rock”).

Jenn Colella played, alongside other roles as all actors play more than one character, the role of Beverly Bass. Although this musical is an ensemble piece, Beverly Bass is often seen as the main character because she had her own song in the middle of the show called Me And The Sky. The song tells the story of Bass’ life: how she knew from the age of eight that she wanted to be a pilot, and she extremely terribly hard until she finally fulfilled her dreams in 1986 and became the first female American Airlines captain in history, before moving on to becoming the captain of American Airlines’ first all-female crew later that year. Bass was the pilot of one of the planes that was diverted to Gander. Last month, the real Beverly Bass released her first children’s book, Me And The Sky, named after the song. The book, similarly to the song, tells the story of her life, in the hope that it will inspire other young girls to follow their dreams and never allow anyone to tell you ‘you can’t or you won’t or you know you’re not anything ‘cause you’re a girl’, a line which Jenn Colella has performed almost 1200 times!

It truly is such a special and important show, especially at this time. It teaches kindness, equality, community, selflessness, and so many more vital things that we all should have in our lives and should share with others. This is a show that will make the world a better place. As almost everybody said when I asked for thoughts and opinions on this musical on a Facebook group called All Things West End, everyone must, or at least should, see this show.

Ivy Stephens