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Photo by Matthew Murphy
Photo by Matthew Murphy
The cast of "Come From Away"

BY BOB NESOFF AND VICTORIA SCHNEPS

No one will ever forget the tragedy of 9/11, especially the cowardly attack on the World Trade Center. But it is a fact of human nature that when darkness falls, someone will offer a helping hand — a hand of friendship.

As the attack was underway on Sept. 11, 2001, American airspace was closed, and all flights at the time were ordered to land. International flights heading to the U.S. were diverted to Canada, and 38 of them landed in the small Canadian town of Gander, Newfoundland.

On those planes were some 7,000 stranded passengers. They were lost. They had no idea what was going to happen to them. What came about was the spirit of friendship from the Canadian people who took it upon themselves to offer that hand of friendship.

“Come From Away” is an uplifting musical that tells the story of what happened when 9,000 Gander residents took it as their responsibility to lessen the burden and impact on the travelers. They set up places to sleep and provided food, and took many of them into their homes.

The possibility of this story becoming a sappy retelling of the terrible time could have hung like a cloud over the production, but husband and wife writing team of Irene Sankoff and David Hein have managed an uplifting tale of human kindness and the ethic of the Canadians.

“The people of Gander opened their homes and their hearts,” said Hein. “They didn’t have to do that.”

This is not a play about tragedy. It’s a story about good people reaching out to others and lifting their spirits.

Hein and Sankoff set about an impossible task of a production with 12 people bringing to life the 16,000 people who crowded into the small village. Each plays multiple roles and they do so with aplomb.

The audience is drawn not only into the wariness of the passengers suddenly stranded on a strange, small island far from home, but also into the goodness of the residents. Audience members will not come away from “Come From Away” with anything but a smile of their faces.

This is a love story not between couples, but among total strangers. It’s come too late for Valentine’s Day, but what a gift that would have been.

Perhaps William Butler Yeats said it best: “A stranger is only a friend you have yet to meet.”

“Come From Away” is at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater.

Vietnam revisited

Not only was the Vietnam war controversial, but the angst flowed over to the theater.

When “Miss Saigon” was slated to move from London to New York more than 25 years ago, there was a flap over Welshman Jonathan Pryce playing The Mechanic, a Eurasian. Activists insisted the role had to be portrayed by an Asian.

To his credit, producer Cameron Mackintosh refused to buckle under and Pryce wound up playing the role before the New York audiences. They were gifted with the Tony-nominated modern remake of “Madame Butterfly,” the tragic tale of a Japanese woman in love with an American naval officer.

Miss Saigon was moved to Vietnam, but the basic story line remained. The show played to enthusiastic audiences and positive reviews. It played to those both for and against the war.

Now it is returning to the New York theater, opening on March 23, starring Eva Noblezada in the title role. The 20-year-old is two years older than Lea Salonga was when she originated the role in London. It moved to New York in 1991 and ran for 10 years.

Noblezada’s performance as Kim, in London, was hailed by the critics in the West End Britain’s famed theater district.

Miss Saigon is slated to run at the Broadway Theater, but you might not want to wait that long for tickets, as it’s a limited engagement. It’s scheduled to close next January.

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