It’s NOT the 9/11 musical.
If nothing else, that’s what the stars of the new Broadway musical “Come From Away” want you to know. The musical opened on Broadway March 12 and tells the true story of the residents of Gander, a small town in Newfoundland, who put their lives on hold and opened their homes to 7,000 displaced travelers following the tragedy of 9/11.
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As midair flights across the country were rerouted on 9/11, Gander took in 38 wide-body planes on transatlantic routes carrying shocked, grieving and stranded passengers. The musical captures the clash of cultures and nerves, as well as uneasiness which morphed into trust, gratitude, and enduring friendships.
The production also generated headlines earlier this month when Ivanka Trump took in a performance accompanied by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
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One of the show’s star performers Joel Hatch plays “Claude,” the mayor of Gander. Hatch shared his observations about the show and why he believes audiences will embrace the production despite its tragic backdrop.
Q: How did you first become aware of the production?
HATCH: I was working on another new musical with some friends in a workshop and my agent sent me note and said I think you should read this script. This was about three years ago. I said we’re really really busy right now…we were going to be doing a performance of this thing. And he said ‘No, I REALLY think you should read this.’
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Q. He was that insistent?
HATCH: He was. So it was online and I started flipping through it and it was “Oh my God, Oh my God, Oh my God.” I couldn’t put it down. I read the whole thing. I made me laugh. It made me cry. It moved me all over the place and I kept being surprised by it. I called my agent and said I have to read for it.
Q. When you first read the script did you have any initial trepidation about the show using 9/11 as the backdrop?
HATCH: When most people go, “Oh. it’s a 9/11 musical,” it’s not really. It’s a musical about people responding in an incredibly powerful way to 9/11.
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Q: You feel enough time has passed where people are ready to embrace this sort of production?
HATCH: I think our producers were concerned about that obviously. They had us try it out first on some cities in the West Coast and then we brought it to Washington, D.C. Then they brought in people who lost family in the Pentagon and they brought in first responders to the Pentagon. They were our invited guests and they saw the show.
Q: What was their reaction?
HATCH: They didn’t have any foreknowledge of the show. They were a little trepidatious. But when they came…at the outset of the show it’s painful. It’s painful because it deals with the immediate impact of what happened and they were grieving. But as the show went along they started to laugh. Then they started to laugh harder. And by the end of the show they were joyous and the feeling was as though they had gone through a catharsis.
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Q: What does the story say about the human spirit and people’s ability to come together in a time of horrible tragedy?
HATCH: It says that in those moments the vast majority of mankind is good. That in those moments…when a few sad possessed souls kill other people… the vast majority of mankind responds in an incredibly positive way.
Q. Among other roles in the production you portray the mayor of Gander Claude Elliott, who was integral in opening the town to take in those 7,000 displaced passengers. What was your experience like meeting the real life Claude?
HATCH: He was a former EMT prior to becoming mayor of Gander. So when he responds to situations it wasn’t emotionally. It was let me figure out how I can make this work better quickly. When he became mayor he said we have to have a plan for any sort of emergency that comes our way. And they did. They put this big book together and he said the first hour when they found out these planes were all heading their way they opened the book and the first page had all the important people to get in the room and the phone system that would contact everyone that needed to be contacted. In the first hour they had everyone in a room doing the work to get all the pharmaceutical needs and the hospital and clothing and food needs. He said that’s what saved them. By the time the planes landed they had food ready for 7,000 people.
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Q: You’ve been on Broadway previously in “Annie” and “Billy Elliot.” How is this experience different?
HATCH: “Billy Elliot” to an extent was similar in that it was people in a really difficult situation overcoming extraordinary odds. This is taking that to an even larger scale. It capture a whole community seeing something horrible happen and overcoming that situation with something really positive.
Q: What do you hope the takeaway will be from audiences that see the production. What do you hope they’ll feel as they leave the theater?
HATCH: What people tell me they feel is good about mankind. That mankind is capable of doing something really positive in a horrible situation.
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