The play, written by two Canadians — Irene Sankoff and David Hein — brings to life multiple stories of the 6,579 passengers on the 38 jumbo jets who were diverted to Gander after the terrorist attack on Sept 11, 2001.
The play had done well in several American cities, however, New York can be a tougher stage, where judgments can be harsh, competition is tough and the cost of theatrical productions can be massive.
Also in the mix is the potential for emotions to run high given a major proportion of the tragedy occurred in New York City.
Petrina Bromley, the only principal actress from Newfoundland, described New York as a “very specific monster, one wrong review could put a nail in the coffin.”
Another Newfoundlander, musician Romano DiNillo, still felt this experience to be “surreal.” He confessed that his friend had captured him on video staring up at the venue marquee.
Both Bromley and DiNillo agreed, however, that the show’s recent success in Toronto did relieve some of the tension.
When asked what was different between Toronto and New York, Bromley explained that the New York production is “bigger, extraordinarily bigger with many deceptive moving pieces.”
There are 1,200 spotlight cues in the Broadway show, for instance. That translates into a lighting change on average every five seconds.
Feb. 18 was opening night at the Schoenfeld Theatre, which is located on one of the tributaries off Time Square.
As the curtain went up the cast were well-prepared and energetic. The opening number, “Welcome to the Rock,” was met with thunderous applause.
Bromley later conceded that she knew things were going well when the reaction in the audience required they hold their positions for comparatively longer than any other performance to allow for the applause.
The enthusiasm continued for the performers and the audience.
A revolving stage and a comparatively minimal set, comprised mostly of chairs, continually changed function from the Gander Tim Hortons, to airplane/bus seats, to become the rocky steps at the Dover Fault.
The production never faltered.
By the end of the performance the audience was on its feet clapping along with the musicians who had reassembled on the front of the stage leading what would parallel a rousing Newfoundland kitchen party.
Don Moores and his partner Peter Alywood of St. John’s, who had travelled to New York specifically to see the play, said they had “never experienced such an enthusiastic ovation in the 40 shows they had seen on Broadway.”
Curious to know how Americans felt, you could catch many of the audience in tears. Daniel Penchina, who was born and raised in NYC and present on 9-11, said it was difficult to be reminded of the painful memories, however, felt the performance “left him with an overwhelming sense of the power of a shared humanity.”
A fellow American, Don Hoppert, wanted to “hug a Newfoundlander” when it was over.
Outside the theatre a young woman, Mai Tomida, who identified herself as half Japanese and half Egyptian, could not stop crying.
“This play deals with so many issues I face at the moment,” she said.
At a time when American politics is arguably rampant with protectionism, borders are potentially closing and diversity is being shunned, there appears to be a significant appetite for a play like “Come From Away.”
Not to mention as Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, it is easy to feel proud when we show the world that if 6,000 people land on our doorstep, we invite them in — no questions asked.