‘Come From Away’ Inspires Togetherness!

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BY BONNIE SQUIRES
Thank you, Anne Ewers and Ed Cambron, for the Kimmel Center Cultural Campus and the Broadway Philadelphia series which just opened with the outstanding musical production, Come From Away. If your spirits need lifting – and whose don’t in these trying times? – then hurry to buy your tickets before the sold-out shows have none left!

Okay, so the premise of the award-winning show, which comes to us from Broadway, sounds as if it could not possibly be uplifting. I mean – to harken back to 9/11, when all airplanes had to land immediately after the hijacked planes plowed into the Twin Towers in Manhattan, the Pentagon, and the bravery of passengers over Pennsylvania – does not sound like fare for an entertaining musical.

And yet the basic humanity of the folks on the island of Newfoundland, the small town of Gander in Canada, who suddenly were confronted with almost 7,000 airplane passengers who were forced to land in their airport because of the 9/11 tragic attacks, brought out the best instincts of ordinary people.

The show, like Hamilton, relays its story mostly in songs and dancing, with a talented and spirited cast: close to two dozen actors who can sing and dance with the best of them act like a well-oiled machine.

Two scenes really touched me: first, the scene where the various ethnic groups did their praying in their respective churches synagogue and mosques. And then the character named “Bonnie” spent time digging through the luggage underneath the planes, finding the live animals – cats, dogs and even a rare monkey – to give them food and water, and to dispense pills which had been taped to their carriers. In fact, the opening night at the Academy of Music was a charity event for local animal shelters, courtesy of Pilots to the Rescue.

Name the award – from Tony to Grammy to Drama Desk, etc. – and the married team of Irene Sankoff and David Hein have won them all with this unique musical. The lighting and staging and choreography are imaginative. And there was not an empty seat in the Academy of Music on opening night. Standing ovations from the orchestra seats to the very top of the farthest balcony.

And thank you to Sidney Kimmel, who, when asked by his good friend then-Mayor Ed Rendell to come up with the lead gift for building the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts on the Avenue of the Arts, did not hesitate. The Academy of Music and the Merriam Theater are now under that same umbrella.

But Come From Away reminds us of a time and a place where people took in strangers, where diverse ethnic groups actually got along, and where humanity was well served by the basic instincts of goodness and compassion.

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