The gloriously sentimental 9/11 musical “Come from Away” comes to Apple TV with all its Canadian cuddliness intact. This filmed version of the Tony winning show captures the charms of this folksy production, about the good people of Newfoundland and their role in coming to the aid of thousands of stranded airline passengers on that fateful day back in 2001.
Using real locals and composites of the 7,000 strangers “come from away” to “the rock,” the giant remote airport on the North Atlantic in Gander, Irene Sankoff and David Hein crafted a feel-good celebration of Canadian empathy and compassion, and the unique hospitality of a windswept town at the edge of a continent.
A cast of 12 assume multiple roles as Newfoundlanders and passengers, pilots and stewardesses, mayors and the constable, an animal shelter worker, a profiled Egyptian passenger and barflies, a gay couple, strangers who connect and others worried and wary and the lone local TV reporter, new to the job, who captured this miracle of logistics and triumph of generosity as it happened.
It’s as Canadian as Tim Horton’s, as warm as “a cuppa” whether that cuppa be of tea, coffee or Irish whiskey.
“Fish and chips and shipwrecks, that’s Newfoundland” the mayor (Joel Hatch) and ensemble’s opening number proclaims. The school bus drivers are on strike. The constable (Paul Whitty) is keeping the peace, which is peaceful. The airport is set for another routine day of limited arrivals, its days as a refueling station for almost all transatlantic flights receding into the past. In 2001, much of the place was overdue for a planned demolition.
And then there it is, on the radio, the TV. All these flights are diverted as North America’s skies empty of planes, with every landing flight a potential threat.
Newfoundlanders? They’re singing “Can I do something, I need to do something! Because I can’t watch the news.”
So they start converting schools, a Salvation Army Camp and the like into shelters. They empty the stores, with shopkeepers telling them “Take what’cha need.”
A pioneering female airline pilot (Jenn Colella) sings of her struggles to get this coveted job, and remembers a colleague she learns died that day.
And on the planes — fear, uncertainty, everyone kept in the dark about the “incident” in the U.S. Unable to call home, unable to deplane, having run through every movie on every flight (38 jetliners), the “complimentary booze” comes out.
As somber and sad as all this was and is, “Come from Away” is never more than a minute or two removed from reminding us that there was an awful lot of disarming, homespun hilarity.
A bus driver (Tim Walton) — they put their strike on hold — turns late night tour guide as he shuttles people from all over the world through the woods to a shelter.
“Dot dare in de middle of the road? Dot’s a moose. Yah. She’ll move when she’s good an’ready.”
Local cuisine earns raised eyebrows — “Cod au gratin. Fish. With cheese!” “Are there no vegetables in Canada?”
The cub reporter (Emily Walton) does live updates, becoming a town crier as the Newfoundlanders rally, and maybe get a bit carried away as they do.
“For tha’LOVE of God, stop bringin’ toilet paper to the Lion’s Club!”
And the frightened and suspicious, the mistrusting, the worried-sick and the ethnically-profiled find moment after moment of common ground and communication as Operation Yellow Ribbon springs to life.
The stage magic here is the simplicity of the production — just characters in chairs, swaying in time to simulate a bus ride, singing as they do. All it takes to turn a few tables with people seated at them into an air traffic control tower is dimming the lights and breaking out flashlights.
Six passenger cardiologists have their “Magic Mike” moment, volunteering to clean the toilets at their shelter.
And with an accompanying on-stage musical ensemble and lots of booze passed around, can a lesson in singing a local sea chantey be far behind?
It’s an old fashioned show, not remotely as hip as the Lin Manuel Miranda musicals that have turned such folksiness into antiques. The songs are pleasantly forgettable, even as the get the job done.
But as characters riff through personal stories, slip into Swahili, Hindi, Arabic, Hebrew and Newfie — “Lard thunderin’ JESUS!” — and the plucky have their moment to shine, “Come from Away” reminds us of a time when people gathered together and did the right thing, and those they were doing it for appreciated the heck out of them for it.
Rating: TV-14, profanity, drunking
Cast: Petrina Bromley, Jenn Colella, De’Lon Grant, Q. Smith, Caesar Samoya, Tony LePage, Joel Hatch, Astrid Van Wieren, Emily Walton and Paul Whitty.
Credits: Directed by Christopher Ashley, musical by David Hein and Irene Sankoff. An Apple TV+ release.
Running time: 1:47