Journalist and moderator Ruthie Fierberg, co-writer David Hein,
co-writer Irene Sankoff, performer Happy McPartlin, performer Jim Walton,
performer Julie Reiber.
Come From Away: A Broadway 2nd Anniversary Celebration
by Deirdre Donovan
a late-winter storm covered the city’s streets and sidewalks with slush on
March 3rd, it didn’t stop some hearty New Yorkers from dropping by the 92
Street Y to enjoy the Come From Away: A Broadway 2nd Anniversary
Celebration. A part of the 92 Street Y Talks, the special event was a rare
opportunity to get up-close and personal with the moguls who penned the
award-winning musical and the actors who keep the Broadway show humming.
panelists included the Canadian married writing team, Irene Sankoff and David
Hein (book, music, & lyrics), as well as three current Broadway cast
members: Happy McPartlin, Julie Reiber, and Jim Walton. Moderated by Playbill
magazine’s Ruthie Fierberg, the audience leaned in as the panelists one by
one shared their favorite memories and inside s
about Come From Away.
launched the program by asking how many in the audience had seen the show. A
sea of hands immediately shot up—and the entire panel broke into a collective
noted that the Broadway musical has been playing to sold-out and near-capacity
crowds for the duration of its 2-year Broadway run. In October 2018, it became
the longest running Canadian musical on Broadway (outdoing The Drowsy
Chaperone’s former record of 674 performances). What’s more, a
London production just opened on February 18th, 2019, and received
nine nominations (on March 5th) for the 2019 Olivier Awards.
secret to its success? Well, a good deal of its magic is in the story itself.
It is based on the inspiring true-life story that unfolded when 38 planes were
ordered to land unexpectedly in a small Newfoundland town when U.S. airspace
was closed in the aftermath of 9/11. For five days, the residents of Gander
provided bed, board, and more to the 7,000 stranded travelers. Their kindness
touched the hearts of the grounded passengers—and would eventually touch the
hearts of everyone who learned the remarkable story.
to Sankoff and Hein, Come From Away was conceived by Toronto lawyer and
theatre producer Michael Rubinoff. Rubinoff approached Sankoff and Hein about
coming on board the project—and they decided to give it a go. In 2011, the
couple accompanied Rubinoff to Gander for the 10-year anniversary of 9/11 and
interviewed the townspeople and returning passengers. The interviews turned
into a key resource in bringing the project to fruition, some of which went
whole-cloth into the musical and others that would inform composite characters.
focus of the discussion shifted from the musical’s background and development
to the dynamic production now running at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre. And,
of course, the cast is its engine.
Happy McPartlin Photo credit: Maricela Magana / Michael
McPartlin, who’s been a Broadway cast member since 2017, recounted what it’s
like to be a standby, poised to “go on” for several different characters at any
given show, all at the drop of a hat. What has helped her remain grounded in
each character, she said, is having a top-notch dialect coach (Joel Goldes) and
costume designer (Toni-Leslie James) on the creative team. Fueled by their
expertise and materials, McPartlin can confidently glide into a character’s
dialect and don the right clothes in a wink. And once these things are in
place, McPartlin finds the rest of her performance will flow.
formerly a standby and now one of the regular cast members (since October
2018), plays Nick and other characters. Walton explained that his background
as a dancer has helped him hugely in this tightly choreographed show. He
referred, in particular, to the ensemble scenes where chairs are arranged in
narrow rows to simulate an airplane cabin. Walton remarked that he has to lope
over his cast-mates to get to his next targeted seat on stage, and once in
place, he has morphed into a new character.
Julie Reiber had perhaps the most surprising reflection of all to share with
the audience. Whenever she “goes on” and hears the pulsating beat of the
opening song, “Welcome to the Rock,” it reminds her of the first time she could
hear her baby’s heartbeat in utero.
the panelist’s personal comments and back-stage stories were fascinating to
hear, it was the live performance of two songs from the musical that sent the
audience into the stratosphere.
and Walton’s rendering of “Stop the World” was as romantic as it gets. The
duet captures a tender moment between these “come from aways” (the name
Newfoundlanders give to visitors, including the stranded travelers) and Rieber
and Walton infused it with genuineness. A few beats later, McPartlin did a
spine-tingling interpretation of “Me and the Sky,” a paean about flying that
the lead character Beverley sings, relating how she broke the glass ceiling at
American Airlines when she became their very first female captain in 1968.
wrapped up the program by reading a few questions addressed to the panelists
from audience members. One of the questions—how do you play out the comedy
and tragedy of the story?—made everybody on both sides of the footlights pause
for a thoughtful moment. Hein finally broke the silence, however, and soberly
responded: “We have to be sensitive to those affected by the tragedy.” He
then added that it never fails to touch him when a family member or friend of
somebody who died on 9/11 approaches him after a show and tells him how healing
the musical is.
Come From Away, as it celebrates its second anniversary on Broadway,
continues to be a healing balm for those who go see it. It points up the power
of kindness following one of the darkest moments in U.S. history.
performance only, March 3rd, 2019.
the 92nd Street Y, 1395 Lexington Avenue at 92nd Street,
more information on upcoming events, phone 212.415.5500 or visit www.92y.org.
time: 75 minutes with no intermission.