THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Come From Away
TORONTO — Viv Jean was initially wary of "Come From Away.”
The New Yorker grew up on the East Coast close to the Big Apple, so 9/11 is a sensitive subject. The prospect of a stage show inspired by the events of that tragic day raised eyebrows. However, her views started to shift when she delved deeper into the backstory behind the musical.
Jean has now been in the audience for "Come From Away" more than a dozen times. She's among a devoted group of the show's superfans who have been inspired by the uplifting Tony-nominated musical and keep going back for repeat viewings.
"Come From Away" centres around the hospitality shown by Newfoundlanders to thousands of airline passengers and crew members stranded when U.S. airspace was closed following the 2001 terror attacks.
"When I looked into the story of Gander and what they did there, I felt a lot more comfortable and got really excited about it," recalled Jean of her introduction to "Come From Away."
"If there had to be a musical about 9/11, this was the right story to tell.
Jean is a longtime fan of "Come From Away" star Jenn Colella, a Tony nominee for her portrayal of real-life retired airline captain Beverley Bass.
The 23-year-old photographer saw the actress posting about the show when it was staged several years ago at the La Jolla Playhouse in California. Jean finally had the chance to see "Come From Away" in Washington, D.C. — and she was "pretty much speechless.
"I was captivated ... for the entire 100 minutes," said Jean. "I was crying most of the time, and laughing at the same time I was crying.
"I've never walked out of a show before feeling like I had to see it again as soon as I could, and just loving it and wanting everyone I know to go see it.
Kelly Walker saw "Come From Away" for the first time at the Seattle Repertory Theatre where the show was part of her subscription package.
"I just fell madly in love with it," recalled Walker, 42, a scientist who works in the biotech industry. "It made me remember that time and how we were all almost kind of nicer to each other right after 9/11 happened, and just that sense of community that we had after such a tragic event.
"I kind of feel that we've lost that in a sense, so it just made me feel good about humanity again.
Walker's love for "Come From Away" runs so deep she has travelled to Washington, D.C., Toronto and New York for encore performances.
"It doesn't necessarily warrant 15 viewings, but if I'm going to fly across the country to go see it, I'm going to see it more than once," said Walker, who added she's also become interested in visiting Newfoundland and Labrador.
"I have to say, when I first saw the show, I assumed that there were a lot more liberties taken with it to make it a better story," said Walker. "Then to come and find out that all of these things I assumed were built up were real — or just a true composite of a couple of real stories — was amazing.
"I have definitely looked into a lot more of how Newfoundland is — and Gander specifically — and I would love to go there some day.
Amanda Jurson, who has seen the show more than a dozen times, said she too was taken in by the stories of selflessness.
"I think everyone was so focused on New York no one really thought about, 'what about all the other planes flying that day?' I was only 11 when 9/11 happened, so for me, it's nice to see how a small town brought everybody in from different countries," said Jurson, 27, who works at a Broadway supper club. "That's remarkable.
Rachel Spiar caught one of the earliest glimpses of "Come From Away." She was invited to a workshop for the fledgling show when it was incubated and developed at Sheridan College in Oakville, Ont.
She still has the original cast recording of students from Sheridan's Canadian Music Theatre Project performing tunes from the musical.
"We walked out of there so blown away and we said: 'This needs to be something. This needs to be a whole musical,'" she recalled.
"The music stuck with us, and the music really connected us to the emotions and to the story," she added. "It's such a heartwarming story that you would never expect to come out of an event like that.
Spiar said she isn't surprised "Come From Away" has drawn theatregoers for repeat viewings — even those that extend well into double-digit territory.
"People want to go back because not only is it just a human story, it makes you feel great," she said.
"I see a lot of theatre and it's just so well-written.... The book is so tight, it's so brilliant, and you find something new every time you go back.