There will be time enough for the quirky townspeople of Gander on Canada's remote North Atlantic coast to get back to their regular annoyances and squabbles. But for five days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, these ordinary people floated above themselves, coming together to offer shelter, food and welcome to thousands of fearful and confused strangers forced to land in the middle of nowhere.
The Ganderites' extraordinary graciousness, 1,500 miles from New York's Ground Zero, is captured in "Come From Away," the sweet, big-hearted Irene Sankoff/David Hein musical whose Broadway tour landed Tuesday at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis.
The title comes from how the locals describe outsiders — people who've come from away.
The one-act staged with imaginative efficiency is by Christopher Ashley, who won a Tony for his direction in 2017, and the action moves with the dispatch of a sleek jetliner. This valentine to compassion mixes bluegrass with Celtic influences, creating a folksy feel-good emotionality that celebrates community. Nine of the show's 15 musical numbers are delivered by the dozen-member company.
Each cast member uses gesture, intonation and dress to ably switch between various roles in a choral story that unfolds on Beowulf Boritt's rustic set framed by tall trees. Toni-Leslie James' hodgepodge pedestrian costumes and the action are lit expressively by Howell Binkley, who uses lots of ocean blues.
The play's plot is straightforward. After the terrorist attacks shut down U.S. airspace, nearly 7,000 people on 38 civilian jumbo jets are forced to land in Gander Newfoundland. The 9,000 or so residents then spring into action, cooking meals, emptying stores and preparing gyms and schools to accommodate their unplanned guests. Townspeople include colorful Mayor Claude (Kevin Carolan), caring SPCA worker Bonnie (Jane Bunting), policeman Oz (Kilty Reidy) and commanding teacher Beulah (Amelia Cormack).
Beulah strikes up a friendship with New Yorker Hannah (Jenny Ashman), whose son is a firefighter missing at the collapsed towers. A motley mosaic of humanity hailing from nearly 100 countries with different faith and cultural traditions, the passengers also include a same-sex couple, both named Kevin (Brandon Springman and Nick Duckart). There's also a couple of mature singletons — American Diane (Christine Toy Johnson) and Brit Nick (Chamblee Ferguson). And pioneering pilot Beverley Bass (Becky Gulsvig), the captain of a flight bound from Paris to Dallas.
While there are pretty elements here and there in the compositions, the show stands out because of its folksiness and its character focus. It's as if Sankoff and Hein, a married couple who wrote the book, music and lyrics, decided to celebrate all the people who ordinarily would be considered the supporting cast.
That's a welcome departure from standard Broadway fare, and it is one that leaves a viewer with a feeling of joy, a surprising emotion given the history on which the whole thing is based.
'Come From Away'
Who: Book, music and lyrics by Irene Sankoff and David Hein. Directed by Christopher Ashley.
Where: Orpheum Theatre, 910 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls.
When: 7:30 p.m. Tue.-Thu. 8 p.m. Fri., 2 & 8 p.m. Sat., 1 & 6:30 p.m. Sun. Ends Jan. 23.
Protocol: Proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 test.
Tickets: $40-$146. 1-800-982-2787 or hennepintheatretrust.org.