Vanity Fair: Inside Come from Away

Inside Come from Away, a Musical About Airline Passengers Stranded After 9/11


When the F.A.A. shut down American airspace on September 11, thousands of passengers were diverted to an airport in Gander, Newfoundland. A singer-songwriter (and Canadian) couple bring the story of small-town camaraderie amid tragedy to Broadway this March.

“Hey, let’s put on a musical about 9/11!” seems an unlikely rallying cry for a couple of newcomers to Broadway whose only previously staged musical was My Mother’s Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding. But then you have not met Irene Sankoff and David Hein, the married songwriting team whose combination of heart and humor makes Come from Away one of this season’s most anticipated shows.

The musical, which opens in March, takes place in Gander, Newfoundland, where dozens of airliners with thousands of passengers were diverted when the F.A.A. briefly shut down American airspace on September 11, 2001. Sankoff and Hein, both Canadians, who met at York University in 1994, lived in New York then and witnessed the camaraderie that blossomed amid the tragedy, an experience that shaped their approach to the Gander episode, which they learned about only years later. They attended the 10th-anniversary celebration in Gander, interviewing dozens of townspeople and returning passengers.

“This is not a 9/11 story,” Hein says. “It’s a 9/12 story.” It is also a story, as Sankoff points out, about “a community deeply affected by a tragedy far away.” Come from Away already has played to cheers in San Diego, Seattle, Washington, D.C., Toronto—and Gander, where Sankoff and Hein staged two performances to show their gratitude to the town that will take them to Broadway.

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