There’s something special and completely refreshing happening eight times a week at the Schoenfeld Theatre on Broadway: in Come From Away, the whole world is welcome.
Come From Away tells the story of the 38 planes and their 7,000 passengers that were rerouted to a small town in Newfoundland when the American airspace closed following the events of 9/11. While that might sound grim, the musical soars with life and vitality. Audience members can’t help but get caught up in the story.
The contagious spirit of welcoming that you feel at Come From Away is in part due to the show’s long journey to Broadway. Before New York, the cast performed in San Diego, Seattle, Toronto, Washington, D.C., and even at the hockey rink in Gander itself, the small town with a big heart that serves as the setting of the play.
We recently spoke with members of the cast and the musical's creators about what it was like to earn their Broadway debuts, become a part of the Broadway community, and grow together as a cast along the way.
Come From Away is an incredibly special show on its own, but it’s made even more special for the cast members making their Broadway debut. Lee MacDougall, who plays the adorably British Nick, has been acting professionally for many years, but he’s never performed on Broadway until now. On making his Broadway debut, he said, “It is very exciting to now be a part of the Broadway community, as opposed to just an ardent fan.”
Echoing his sentiments, Astrid Van Wieren, who plays the dynamo Beulah, said, “I’m 52, and this is my Broadway debut! How cool is that?” She also spoke about her experience joining the Broadway community: “When you wear a microphone every night, there’s usually a little bit of mic tape gunk that gets stuck to the back of your neck. When I see someone at a coffee shop with that mic tape gunk, I’ll ask them which show they’re performing in. It’s a small thing, but I love greeting fellow performers and hearing about their shows. I consider us all neighbors.”
This neighborly bond became especially clear after Geno Carr, who plays the town lawman Oz, told us about how two adjacent Broadway shows had come together. The Come From Away dressing room windows happen to face directly across 45th Street towards the Dear Evan Hansen windows. To celebrate Dear Evan Hansen’s Best Musical Tony Award® win, the cast of Come From Away hung a sign in their windows that said “Congrats DEH, Love CFA.” Shortly after that, the two companies got together for a pizza party, where they all swapped stories about performing on Broadway.
For writer Irene Sankoff, finding herself with a Broadway show meant that she had finally made it. “The Broadway community has been incredibly welcoming and we are so grateful for that - especially after having spent so many years in this business trying to figure out where we fit, of being so used to hearing 'no' and suddenly hearing 'yes.’”
That sense of gratitude flows through the entire cast and crew. After speaking with them, it’s instantly clear that they’re all so genuinely happy to be working on this show. “We Come From Awayers are a very large, crazy, funny family,” Lee MacDougall said, and he wasn’t alone. Every single person I spoke to on the cast and crew made a point to use that word: family.
I heard from everyone how much fun they had together and how they support one another. “We've been travelling all over working on the show, and have done it all while raising our daughter,” said writer David Hein. “We hold ‘Kids From Away’ events in the theatre lobby with the children of the company. We all read them stories and play hide-and-go-seek in the theatre.” Since so many of the cast members aren’t from New York, they’ve become each other’s support system.
In this way, the cast members of Come From Away are not unlike the characters that they play. Brought together under unusual circumstances, they’ve made a home away from home. As Astrid Van Wieren said, “This is a play about community, and we’ve formed a community along the way.”
Come From Away is fundamentally a story about the world coming together during an impossibly difficult moment. It’s about how we can overcome our differences through simple acts of kindness. Astrid Van Wieren spoke about what it’s like to perform in such a positive show night after night, saying, “My experience performing in Come From Away is a combination of play and joy.” She paused in thought for a moment before adding, “But it’s more than that, too. In these divisive times, performing in this show feels important. It feels like a calling - a mission. I’m so lucky this is my job.”
Stay tuned for the second part of our conversation with the cast of Come From Away, where they discuss what it was like to move from small-town Canada to New York City.