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Come From Away:  A Broadway 2nd Anniversary Celebration


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


Although 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.


The 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

stories about Come From Away.


Journalist-moderator Ruthie Fierberg 


Fierberg 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 smile. 


Fierberg 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.


The 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. 


According 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.


The 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 Priest Photography


Performer 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.


Walton, 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.


Standby 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. 


While 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.


Rieber 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.


 Fierberg 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.


Yes, 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.


One performance only, March 3rd, 2019.

At the 92nd Street Y, 1395 Lexington Avenue at 92nd Street, Manhattan.

For more information on upcoming events, phone 212.415.5500 or visit

Running time:  75 minutes with no intermission.