‘Come From Away’ inspires, uplifts

Broadway musical celebrates kindness following 9/11 tragedy.



The Broadway show about to land at the Schuster Center this week comes with a welcome message of hope and healing.

The Canadian musical focuses on a series of real-life experiences of those who were grounded at Gander Airport in Newfoundland on Sept. 11, 2001 after planes flew into the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon and a fourth plane crashed in a Pennsylvania field.

When all air traffic was diverted that day, 38 planes landed at Gander with 7,000 stranded passengers.

The musical is based on interviews with those who lived the experience as both travelers and hosts. Musically, the show draws on a wide range of influences, especially those of the Atlantic Northeast and the collision of cultures involved in the unexpected melting pot of Gander at that time.

When it opened in New York in 2017, “Come From Away” was labeled “a big bearhug of a musical” by The New York Times theater critic Ben Brantley. The heartwarming show, nominated for seven Tony awards including Best Musical, is onstage at the Schuster Center from April 6-10 as part of Dayton Live’s Premiere Broadway series. Book, music and lyrics are by Irene Sankoff and David Hein.

Why it continues to resonate

When the tour came to Cincinnati in 2019, it resonated in special ways for Dayton audiences because it followed our devastating tornadoes and tragic shootings in the Oregon District.

“The theme of a community coming together and finding its best self, its core values, is right at the heart of the show,” observed Wright State University’s Joe Deer, who chairs the school’s Department of Theater, Dance and Motion Pictures.

After surviving a two-year pandemic, the message of “Come From Away” continues to be extremely relevant, says Brandon Kelly, a Cincinnati native and graduate of Wright State’s BFA dance program.

Kelly, who recently served as guest choreographer for Wright State’s production of “Sweet Charity,” has created works for numerous national dance companies, themed entertainment and regional theater productions.



He is currently assistant choreographer for Broadway’s “Come From Away” and is also responsible for rehearsing actors to join both the Broadway and touring productions of the show. His job entails making certain each production stays authentic and true to the story.

“Come From Away” is all about hope, says Kelly. “The past two and a half years have taught us to hold onto hope unconditionally and this show is the perfect amalgamation of people being the best version of themselves and doing good in a time of crisis. It’s so feel-good in a way that’s not superficial. It pulls all of the heartstrings in all of the right ways.”

He hopes audiences get the message: “We are all capable of rising to the occasion, persevering, pushing to do the unexpected, even when we’re not asked.”

Kelly believes it’s not just a major crisis that can bring a community together. “I was in Cincinnati when we found out the Bengals would be going to the Super Bowl,” he recalls. " It brought energy to the city; people were really being kind to one another. I think ‘Come From Away’ will have that effect as well. Humans are inherently good.”

Kelly explains that the choreography of this show is unique. “It’s not showy but rather choreography you don’t even realize is choreography,” he explains. “The musical’s choreographer, Kelly Devine, did a good job of creating movement that feels natural and is human-based.”

He gives special credit to the performers who serve as stand-bys in this particular show. “They are amazing!” Kelly says. “There are five different tracks in the show and all of the actors play more than one character so stand-bys have to learn so many parts and have to jump in at a moment’s notice. Omicron pushed those boundaries to the limits.”

Returning to Broadway

The Tony-winning musical, which opened on Broadway on March 12, 2017, was forced to shut down three years later due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Kelly was there when it finally reopened in September and will never forget that historic moment. He was able to meet three of the people who were on the plane that landed in Gander and inspired characters in the musical.

“It was very emotional,” Kelly recalls. “It was really cool to see them watch the show and then afterwards, to talk to the people who played them on stage!”



Local couple were at Gander on Sept. 11

Two of the travelers landing at Gander on that fateful day were Jim and Jeanne Hochman, who resided in Butler Twp. at the time. Jim, who shared their experiences when the “Come from Away” tour came to Cincinnati, has since passed away.

The couple was on their way from London to Cincinnati when the pilot informed them there had been “some activity” and their plane was being diverted. After spending 32 hours on the plane — including an overnight sitting on the tarmac — the passengers were finally permitted to deplane. By then, all had been arranged by the local townspeople in what Jim Hochman once described as a “Herculean effort.”

After being given meals inside the airport, passengers were taken to makeshift accommodations. The Hochmans were taken by school bus to a little church in a suburb called Gambo that had been filled with army cots. In the kitchen, the women were busy preparing food.

When a man asked if anyone needed to go to a pharmacy, Jeanne Hochman thought she’d better get her blood pressure medication. The pharmacist gave her the medicine, didn’t ask for a prescription and didn’t charge her. Their driver then told the couple he and his wife had just finished building an apartment above their garage and would be happy to house them.

“He took us back to the church for our carry-ons, then took us to his home and housed us for four nights,” Jim said. “They were salt-of-the-earth people; they took us around and showed us places. I love to fish, so they took us to fish ladders where the salmon go upstream to spawn.”

The population of Gander doubled that week. “Some stayed at the fire station, some at the high school,” Jim related. “Walmart laid out anything you could want from underwear to toiletries and within a day or two there was a bank of telephones where we could make international calls without charge. Jeanne went into a store to buy something and they wouldn’t take her money.”

The Hochmans couldn’t believe how close the community was. “These people gave so much of themselves, embracing perfect strangers,” Jim said. “We had never seen such an outpouring of love and help.”


What: “Come from Away,” presented by Dayton Live as part of the Premiere Health Broadway series. The show runs one hour and 40 minutes with no intermission.

When: Wednesday, April 6 through Sunday, April 10.

Where: Schuster Center, 1 West Second Street, Dayton.

Tickets: $29-129. Military and group discounts are available.

More info: Call 937-228-3630 or visit DaytonLive.org.

Related programming:

  • Background on Broadway takes place on the fourth floor of the Schuster Center an hour before showtime. Anyone with a ticket to the show, is able to attend these educational sessions.
  • Bagels on Broadway Ever wonder what it takes to prepare a stage for a Broadway show? At 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday, April 6 you can have a cup of coffee and a bagel – then watch the show’s crew and members of IATSE Local 66 set up the sights and sounds for “Come from Away.” It’s a free event but you must register: Click here to register now!

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