Canadian compassion takes center stage

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  • Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press via AP Ivanka Trump greets patrons as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, left, looks on before the start of the Broadway musical “Come From Away” in New York, Wednesday, March 15, 2017.

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    Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press via AP Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, and his wife Sophie Gregoire, behind, greet some of the citizens from Gander, Newfoundland, after the Broadway musical “Come From Away” in New York on Wednesday, March 15, 2017. Trudeau, along with first daughter Ivanka Trump, have welcomed the new musical that celebrates Canadian compassion following 9/11. The musical is set in the small Newfoundland town of Gander, which opened its arms and homes to some 7,000 airline passengers diverted there when the U.S. government shut down its airspace.

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    Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press via AP Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greets the cast of the Broadway musical “Come From Away,” in New York on Wednesday.

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    Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press via AP Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks to the audience before the start of the Broadway musical “Come From Away,” in New York, on Wednesday, March 15, 2017.

  • Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press via AP Ivanka Trump greets patrons as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, left, looks on before the start of the Broadway musical “Come From Away” in New York, Wednesday, March 15, 2017.

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    Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press via AP Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, and his wife Sophie Gregoire, behind, greet some of the citizens from Gander, Newfoundland, after the Broadway musical “Come From Away” in New York on Wednesday, March 15, 2017. Trudeau, along with first daughter Ivanka Trump, have welcomed the new musical that celebrates Canadian compassion following 9/11. The musical is set in the small Newfoundland town of Gander, which opened its arms and homes to some 7,000 airline passengers diverted there when the U.S. government shut down its airspace.

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    Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press via AP Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greets the cast of the Broadway musical “Come From Away,” in New York on Wednesday.

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    Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press via AP Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks to the audience before the start of the Broadway musical “Come From Away,” in New York, on Wednesday, March 15, 2017.

Broadway show reminds us who we’re meant to be

Reviewers are giving “Come From Away” high marks.

Critics, wowed by the show’s story, warmth and characters, also note the show’s timeliness.

It begins its official Broadway run this week as the U.S. is embroiled in heated debate over just how friendly America’s skies, and borders, should be when it comes to immigrants and refugees. With other political tensions also running high, “Come From Away” returns the nation to a day nearly 16 years ago when an act of terrorism brought communities together and good will reigned in the face of tragedy.

“Most people want to believe they’re capable of taking in stricken strangers, so just as anyone who’s flown can easily project themselves into the roles of the stranded travelers, we also like to imagine we’d be as welcoming in a crisis as the people of Gander,” wrote Peter Marks, in the Washington Post. “That’s why this musical is so suited to this particular moment. Not as a mournful reminder of who we all might have been for one another, but who we are all meant to be.”

On stage at New York City’s Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, “Come From Away” is billed like this: “In a heartbeat, 38 planes and 6,579 passengers were forced to land in Gander, Newfoundland, doubling the population of one small town on the edge of the world. On Sept. 11, 2001, the world stopped. On Sept. 12, their stories moved us all.”

Laura Little, one of North Idaho’s most well-known theater mavens and owner of a theater production company based in Coeur d’Alene, is co-producing the show.

Little told The Press Thursday she knew “Come from Away” was a special piece when she saw a reading of it in 2013. But she never expected it to generate this level of catharses.

“I love the fact that the message is delivered through a brilliantly constructed and seamless piece of art. Patrons laugh through their tears and they all profess their intent to come back and see it again with friends and family. It’s a show that you want to share … clearly Prime Minister Trudeau felt the same way,” Little said.

The Canadian Prime Minister attended a performance Wednesday.

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Maureen Dolan is city editor of The Coeur d’Alene Press. She can be reached by email at mdolan@cdapress.com

NEW YORK — Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — along with first daughter Ivanka Trump as a guest — welcomed a new Broadway musical that celebrates Canadian compassion and openness to international travelers following the Sept. 11 attacks.

Trudeau and Trump and some 120 ambassadors from around the world attended the show “Come From Away” on Wednesday night at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, in a city where the bulk of the 3,000 people on 9/11 died and in a country furiously discussing borders and immigration.

The musical is set in the small Newfoundland town of Gander, which opened its arms and homes to some 7,000 airline passengers diverted there when the U.S. government shut down its airspace. In a matter of a few hours, the town was overwhelmed by 38 planeloads of travelers from dozens of countries and religions, yet locals went to work in their kitchens and cleaned up spare rooms.

In remarks before the show, Trudeau got on the stage and said he was pleased that, “the world gets to see what it is to lean on each other and be there for each other through the darkest times.”

The show got a standing ovation, including from Trump, who sat near Trudeau, his wife and U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley. Also in attendance was Jean Chretien, a former Canadian prime minister, and the mayor of Gander. Trump was seen clapping along happily as the band played at the curtain call. Later went backstage to greet the performers.

The actors did not make any changes to the script or acknowledge the special audience, but one afterward was still buzzing.

“When do we have the opportunity to share a story about kindness, gratitude and love that takes place in a country that is known for opening their hearts to people?” said actor Rodney Hicks. “It just meant the world to all of us.”

Trudeau, who champions global free trade and has welcomed 40,000 Syrian refugees, was celebrating the 150th anniversary of Canada’s confederation and also hoped to reaffirm the special friendship between Canadians and Americans.

“Our friends are there for those tough times, when you lose a parent or a loved one, when you get knocked off your path at a difficult moment in your life. Where you go through difficult times, that’s when you turn and you lean on your friends,” he said. “That ultimately is what this story is all about — being there for each other.”

In the show, a cast of a dozen play both residents and marooned passengers, telling true stories of generosity, compassion and acceptance, while fear and suspicion reigned in America. The show arrives just as a debate over immigration and open borders has reignited following the Trump administration’s push for a ban on travelers from six predominantly Muslim nations.

Canadian husband-and-wife writing team Irene Sankoff and David Hein wrote the book, music and lyrics, and it was directed by Christopher Ashley, the artistic director of the La Jolla Playhouse. The musical veers its focus from weighty matters — a mother anxious about her missing firefighter son in New York — to more silly events, like a rowdy evening at a local bar where visitors are urged to kiss a cod.

Security at the theater was intense and theatergoers had to navigate through frozen snow drifts as well as black SUVs. But Trudeau seemed comfortable on the stage.

“I have to sort of personally say, on behalf of all Canadians, thank you for making us so welcome with the snow,” he said. “It’s a nice touch. You really went out of your way.”

Trudeau’s warm reception was in contrast to the ones that greeted two other world leaders who recently attended the Broadway smash “Hamilton” — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Vice President-elect Mike Pence. Both received more than a smattering of boos.

One woman in attendance on Wednesday was seeing “Come From Away” for the 58th time, having followed it as it made its way from California to Seattle to Washington, D.C., then Gander and now Broadway.

That was Beverley Bass, the first female captain at American Airlines, who was at the helm of Flight 49, going from Paris to Dallas-Fort Worth, when she ended up in Gander on 9/11. She was interviewed by the musical’s creators for her story and is portrayed onstage by Jenn Colella.

After almost 60 performances, might she at some point just step in for Colella one night and play her own life? Bass laughed: “I can’t sing and dance, so her role is safe from me,” she said. Then she thought for a moment and added: “But I guess she can’t fly jets.”

Online: http://comefromaway.com

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