One of the stars of the Broadway production of Come From Away has said the musical gives people not directly affected by the September 11 tragedies 20 years ago “permission to grieve.”
The hit show is set in the week following the 9/11 attacks and tells the true story of what happened when 38 planes were ordered to land unexpectedly in a small town in Canada with 7,000 stranded travellers in need of food and a place to stay.
The show, which has also been a hit in the West End, was dark for more than a year due to the pandemic before the cast returned to the New York stage to film a performance, which is being released on Apple TV+ ahead of the 20th anniversary of the atrocities.
Sharon Wheatley, who originated the role of Diane in the show, told the PA news agency: “I think that one of the great things about Come From Away is that it gives people who didn’t necessarily have a direct connection to the Pentagon or the flight in Pennsylvania, or what happened at the World Trade Centre, permission to grieve and permission to reflect on a time I think everyone was traumatised.
“Not everybody had the language to really speak about their personal experience, because things were so acute in New York City and in Washington, DC and Pennsylvania, so that’s one of the things I really love about the show.
“And I also love that we get to show the alternate universe of something good that was happening in this terrible time of trouble.
“There’s something about the stage version that keeps it incredibly human. Like it’s just 12 people working really hard to tell this story and that feels organic to me to what happened in Gander on that day and the days following.”
Wheatley’s co-star Caesar Samayoa, who is also an original cast member, added: “For me, I keep on thinking about my brother-in-law, who was a New York City firefighter and spent three months in Ground Zero and never spoke about 9/11, and here we are about to have the 20th anniversary of 9/11.
“When he saw the show, he said I finally have a different story in my head about the kindness of humanity during this time.
“This show helped him start speaking about that time in our history. So I am personally forever grateful about it.”
Director Chris Ashley said he hopes audiences will be able to focus on positive things that happened, rather than tragedy, adding: “I often think of this as a 9/12 story – it isn’t as much about the attacks on New York as it is events that happened in Newfoundland in the week after.
“The way this extraordinary group of people took in 7,000 total strangers who didn’t share language or culture or religion and made them feel at home; fed them, clothed them, housed them and made a family, and that continues to bring tears to my eyes.
“The film starts on the streets of New York as the first audience returns to Broadway and it does feel as though the message of this show is just as important now as it was then
“It’s a warm show that happens on one of the worst days in modern history – and I think that’s one of the extraordinary things, is it’s people behaving so well on such an extraordinary day and in such a hard week that I think it helps to bring meaning and give us some direction out of these moments of such conflict.”
Come From Away is out now on Apple TV+.