The story that inspired the new musical Come From Away wasn’t one that immediately cried out for a singing-and-dancing stage adaptation: On September 11, 2001, in the wake of the terrorist attacks in New York City, the U.S. airspace was closed and 38 planes (and the thousands of passengers on them) were diverted to the small town of Gander in the remote Canadian province of Newfoundland. Yet as the show’s co-creators David Hein and Irene Sankoff and musical supervisor/arranger/conductor Ian Eisendrath discuss on the Billboard on Broadway podcast, the incredible events of that day (and the couple following) proved oddly musically inspiring.
“It’s a story about people who experienced great epiphany, great change, great emotion — and all those things are the triggers for the songs,” Eisendrath says. “In any great musical, those are the reasons we sing.” And though much of the Come From Away story involves the passengers and flight crews stranded in Gander sitting around and waiting, “it’s because they’re sitting still that they think, they feel, they communicate — they sing,” Eisendrath adds.
Hein and Sankoff (who also happen to be married) lived in New York at the time of 9/11, and Hein says that the Ganderites’ generous spirits reminded him of the way Manhattanites behaved after the attacks. “It reminds us a lot of how kind people were then,” he says. Speaking to how the residents of Gander came together under such seemingly impossible circumstances, Sankoff adds, “Sometimes we forget that that kindness came out of an intelligence, and a bravery. They didn’t know who was coming off those planes, and they took them in anyway.”
Going on to discuss the show’s vibrant score, Hein explains that he grew up hearing bands from Newfoundland, “and I really wanted to play in that sandbox…Newfoundland music is this incredible life-affirming authentic traditional music and yet at the same time, you put it on Broadway, and it sounds like something you’ve never heard before.”
Eisendrath describes Come From Away’s sound as “this juxtaposition of what you would think of as traditional Celtic…superimposed on top of a contemporary rock band.” The score is “very through-composed…it’s almost like one hour-forty-minute song.”
Chatting with host Rebecca Milzoff, the trio also discuss the show’s earthy likability, their research process, and how one very big Celine Dion song worked its way into the score.
Listen to the full episode below. Come From Away is playing on Broadway now at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre.