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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Come From Away

A smash on Broadway since 2017, it's based on the true story of 7000 air passengers who became grounded in Canada after September 11.
By Sarah Ward
March 09, 2021
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By Sarah Ward
March 09, 2021
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Already an enormous success on Broadway, in London's West End and in Melbourne, Tony and Olivier award-winning musical Come From Away is touring its remarkable true tale around Australia's east coast. Based on real post-September 11 events, the acclaimed production has been back in Melbourne since January 2021 for an encore season of kind-hearted charm — which runs through until Sunday, March 21 at the Comedy Theatre.

If you aren't familiar with the musical's plot or the actual events that inspired it, it's quite the exceptional story. In the week after the September 11 attacks in 2001, 38 planes were unexpectedly ordered to land in the small Canadian town of Gander, in the province of Newfoundland. Part of Operation Yellow Ribbon — which diverted civilian air traffic to Canada en masse following the attacks — the move saw around 7000 air travellers grounded in the tiny spot, almost doubling its population. Usually, the town is home to just under 12,000 residents.

To create Come From Away, writers and composers Irene Sankoff and David Hein spent hundreds of hours interviewing thousands of locals and passengers, using their experiences to drive the narrative — and, in many cases, using their real names in the show as well. The result is a musical not just about people coming from away (the term that Newfoundlanders use to refer to folks not born on the island), but coming together, all at a time when tensions were running high worldwide.

Since being workshopped in 2012, having a run in Ontario in 2013, then officially premiering in San Diego in 2015, Come From Away has become a global smash hit. After opening on Broadway in 2017, it was still running before the theatre district closed due to COVID-19. The musical wowed crowds in the West End, too — and, when it first opened in Melbourne in July 2019, it became the Comedy Theatre's most successful musical in the venue's 91-year history.

Along the way, the show has picked up a Tony Award for best direction of a musical, six other nominations, and four Olivier Awards out of nine nominations.

Images: Jeff Busby.

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