'Come From Away' Sets Closing Date as It Sets Records on Broadway

A little over five years ago, Come From Away, a small musical with a strange title and no big-name stars opened on Broadway. Against all odds and one pandemic shutdown, the show, which recently had it 1,500th performance, will on June 15, set the house record for the most performances at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, and will have its final performance, its 1,670th, on October 2. It has been by all standards a successful and surprising run. In addition to records and a Tony Award for director Christopher Ashley, Come From Away has garnered legions of loyal and passionate fans.

There are many reasons for this success. At the top of the list, of course, are the book, music and lyrics by Irene Sankoff and David Hein. A "feel-good musical about the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks" was enough to send shivers down the spine of most cynical New Yorkers, but the show avoids all the potential problems that could have made it treacly. It has humor, anger and most of honesty. And has been kept fresh by welcoming newcomers—"come from aways" who have come from far and away and pretty near too—and mixing them well with original cast members. Petrina Bromley is a native Newfoundlander; Jim Walton is a New Yorker for over 40 years; and Gene Weygandt comes to the show from Chicago by way of Australia.

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Petrina Bromley, a native Newfoundlander, has been with "Come From Away" since its beginning. Matthew Murphy

When asked how she came to Come From Away, Bromley, who has been with the show from its beginning playing, among other characters, Bonnie, told Newsweek, "I'm from Newfoundland, and I was in Gander on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 with a local Newfoundland theater company. We were doing something for the people who were there as part of the events, and I walked into the one coffee shop that wasn't a Tim Hortons. The only other people there were this young couple. The guy who was with me—another actor from our company—is from Toronto, and he said, 'That is crazy. I know those two people.'

"The last thing you would expect is to run into anyone you know from Toronto in Gander. It was David and Irene. They were there getting their little cue cards ready to do an interview with somebody. So, we went over we said hello and he introduced me and then we sort of became Facebook friends. That was the thing at the time. And we just kept in touch and they saw me a couple of times performing in Toronto, and then I got invited to audition, and I went through that whole process. And was lucky enough to get the gig."

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Jim Walton, standing fifth from left, found "Come From Away" complicated to learn, but everyone was very welcoming. Above, "Come From Away" cast performs at the Schoenfeld.in New York. Matthew Murphy

Walton has been acting in New York since 1979, and he debuted on Broadway in 1980 in 42nd Street. He was famously Franklin Shepard in Stephen Sondheim's flop–cult hit Merrily We Roll Along. In Come From Away, he replaced Lee MacDougall in the roles of Nick and Doug among others. He wasn't an early replacement. "I went in in November of 2018. So, Lee did a year and a half, I believe, running in New York, although he did it before, of course, all over the map. But they were a family and still are. There are shifts and changes like any show that runs a long time.

"I gotta be totally honest: When I first came in, I thought, How am I ever going to fit in? Because it's a small show, an adult show, and it's such a grown-up show. It's not like fitting into a song-and-dance extravaganza or whatever like Crazy for You or 42nd Street, which I had done.

"So, I was a little wary. And it wasn't anything against people in the cast. They're all amazing, lovely people. I just thought, This show is a big hit, and I've never replaced in a big hit. Certainly, I never replaced on Broadway, except in Merrily, but I was already in that.

"It was daunting to do that at my age. For me, I felt kind of and how am I going to relax and go with the flow. And sure enough, it took me a lot of time to just settle in, emotionally and personally. The show was difficult to learn, but once I learned it, it was a walk in the park. The hard part was just kind of fitting into an organization that had so much history already had so much success, and I was afraid I was going to disappoint. All of those self-sabotaging feelings I really had to wrestle with this job more than any job in my 43 years in New York City."

Weygandt came to the show in the most roundabout of ways. He told Newsweek, "I've never been a struggling New York actor; I've been a struggling Chicago actor, a struggling Los Angeles actor but never really thought of myself as living in New York.

"I had auditioned for the North American tour here in New York, and I saw the show the night before my audition. Of course, I was absolutely knocked out by it. But it doesn't always work you know, sometimes you don't book something and it truly breaks your heart and other things you walk away from.

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Gene Weygandt joined "Come From Away" from Chicago by way of Australia." Matthew Murphy

"Subsequently, I booked a job in Sarasota, Florida, at the Asolo Repertory Theatre. And the week prior to the end of the show that I was doing down there, The Lifespan of a Fact was when the COVID shutdown initially happened. So, I went back to my little apartment in Oak Park, Illinois, and started walking the dog and goofing around. What else are you gonna do?

"One day, my agent sent me an email. He said I don't think you want to do this but I have to put it in front of you anyway. The Come From Away folks are asking if you'd have any interest in going to Australia, and I said, 'You know what, let's send them a tape again.' And they made the offer. They were so kind about it. They were so great at casting, the woman at Telsey casting was just so great. She said, 'I know this isn't a big deal, and even though they've offered it to you, if you still feel like you need to turn this down, don't worry about it. No one's gonna hate you.'

"And I thought about it, and I kind of went: You know what, there is one acting job available on the planet. You might want to think twice about what's being put in front of you. And so I agreed to do it. I packed up, put everything in storage. I sold my car. I sold my motorcycle. I had my ex take the dog, and in a matter of a couple of weeks, I was on a flight to Australia and starting to learn this enormously complicated show.

"New Zealand was next on the route. And New Zealand wasn't letting anybody in so they said we're going to have to shut down until July and that was you know, last February. So they sent me home. And I sent Danny Goldstein, associate director. I sent him a message just saying thanks. It's just been great. And it had been just a wonderful experience. He's just a wonderful guy, and Ricky Hinds, the American associate choreographer, who is also just great. It was just a great experience. I said, 'Thanks so much.' And he wrote back and said something to the effect of: 'Well, hold on to your hat.'

"About 20 minutes later, my agent called and said, 'They're interested in bringing you to the New York company, but they want you to audition again, because they have lots of people to choose from.' They said come to New York so I left everything in my two suitcases and picked up my dog in Denver from my ex and drove to New York."

Where Were You When...?

Come From Away has resonance for pretty much anyone who was alive at the time of the attacks. The events are a point of reference. Almost everyone over a certain age has answered the question, "Where were you when you heard that planes had hit the Trade Center?" As Walton told Newsweek, the show "touches on the shared event; 9/11 is a shared consciousness and everybody has their 9/11 story."

Bromley was "home in St. John's. And watched it all unfold on television. My folks were visiting at the time they were living in British Columbia and had come home to visit with me. And my dad and his sister were doing a very Newfoundland thing, in September: They were out picking blueberries or I guess would be partridgeberries that time of year. That is a very rural pastime in Newfoundland: You bring home your bucket of berries and you make some jam and you're very happy with yourself. So Dad was out picking berries because he doesn't get to do that B.C. They came home from berry picking and said that they had known something was up because they were out at this remote place called Cape St. Francis and there was plane after plane after plane coming overhead. You know, no cellphones, none of that stuff. It wasn't until they got back to the car and they turned on the radio, They went 'Oh, that's what's happening.' Because you wouldn't usually see that much air traffic."

Walton was in downtown New York "on jury duty. So, I was downtown. We knew what was going on. There was a television in a room, and we could see that the tower had been hit—at least one tower—that's all I knew. And so the jury captain finally released us. I'll never forget, as we were walking out, she said, 'I'll see you all tomorrow morning at 8:30.' I looked at her: I knew already that that wasn't going to happen, and I didn't even know about the second tower. I had carried a camera in my backpack because we didn't have smartphones, so I took pictures of the North Tower. I couldn't see the South Tower because there was a building in the foreground. I was there when it fell. But the earth shook. There was a roar, and I thought it was another airplane hitting a building. So I walked home from the Wall Street area, and I watched the North Tower fall when I was on MacDougal Street in the West Village."

Weygandt, who was in Los Angeles on that day, told Newsweek that he and his then-wife "were still asleep and the phone rang. It was my father and all he said was turn on the television. You can read a lot in someone's voice, so we staggered out of bed and turned on the television. And we had just gotten out of bed, I think it was just in time to see the second plane hit. I suppose, like most people, we initially thought that it was an accident, though that was unlikely. Eventually we figured it out. I had been working for a voice caster—and I either had an audition or I was directing an audition that morning—and my main reaction was should I go to work? Should I go over there? What's even appropriate? The world seems to be going on out here. People are doing things; they're going about their regular life. But I kept thinking in the back of my mind: What's going on? Then, of course, we heard about Shanksville [Pennsylvania] and the Pentagon. I thought, Is this is this going to be like the fashion? Is the next place Minneapolis, Chicago, Kansas City, Oklahoma City, San Francisco and Los Angeles? Are they going to be able to do anything to stop this?"

What happened then, well that's this play: Officials closed all U.S. airspace and rerouted all planes on the East Coast to Gander, where the locals welcomed them in ways that not many people would have expected.

Fitting In

Weygandt said, "I was obliged to watch the show while I was rehearsing when I came here, and it was great. One night and mostly I was just trying to watch Joel [Hatch, whom Weygandt replaced] because there are a million different little tiny differences just in the timing or that kind of stuff. It's the same show in Australia but the timing is different or you pick up a property at a different moment or something. But I happen to notice Petrina in one of those scenes where somebody else is talking and she's just seated in a chair, her back to the audience and she's not lit. And you can just see the pain and the terror and the anguish. She's just so wonderful, so great. They all are, every one of them."

For a show that does not have much if any traditional dancing, all agree this is not a simple show. Weygandt told Newsweek, "It's a joke to some people, but it's only a slight exaggeration, that every 16th note is dictated and choreographed. It's amazing the detail in this show and the precise timing of everything that happens for 100 minutes. We also laugh about the fact that if you happen to drop a line, this thing goes on without you. There's nothing for you to do but run, catch up and jump on that train again."

Walton told Newsweek that the company did its best to ease him into the show, "I did have three weeks of rehearsal. We have the amazing dance captain–principle standby Josh Breckenridge and Danny Goldstein, who is the associate director; and stage management was there. Luckily, I got to have maybe two rehearsals each week on the stage with the props with the chairs and the tape and the turntable. So, they went ahead and paid the unions to come in and be there to help the actors, not just me, but the others who have come in to learn the show in real time on stage, which is kind of crucial. It's very technical. So they really take very good care of us."

Coming from Newfoundland, Bromley, at first, had some reservations about a show depicting real locals. Come From Away is based on interviews with real people, a lot of whom have come to see this show. She told Newsweek, "We always feel like people are doing bad impressions of us. So, my fear was that these two mainlanders were going to come down and tell this story, and it's going to make us look like fools. But when I got to La Jolla [California, where the first production took place], when I read the script, I realized that wasn't the case at all, that they had captured something really special. And that's because of who David and Irene are, that's who they are as people. They're beautiful, generous, sensitive people."

When asked why she thought Come From Away was so successful, Bromley told Newsweek, "What appeals to people about the show is that idea that there is a world where we can be kind to each other. Where we can be generous with each other. And I think that that is something that just appeals to human nature in general, the better part of our human nature, anyway.

"There's been so much bad news in the past 10 years that it really just feels like a place you can escape to that is the real world but isn't. The theater is that for a lot of people, in general. Knowing that our story is true and that these are all real people I think just gives you that extra bit of hope for humanity."

That sense of generosity of spirit pervades every scene of Come From Away. And it touches people from all walks of life. At an audience event one night in New York, a woman told Newsweek that she had seen the show five times. (This was early in the run. People have told Walton they've seen it hundreds of times.) The woman had to cut the conversation short because she was driving back to Pittsburgh, about a five-hour trip. At Cut From Away at Feinstein's/54 Below, which featured songs that had been cut from the show, a young man had driven up from Washington, D.C. The devotion of fans is amazing, and even though Come From Away has posted its closing notice, they will certainly be able to see it on tour and in theaters across North America and beyond for years to come. And in the meantime if they need a fix. they can view the movie version of the show, which was released in 2021.

Come From Away is playing at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre through October 2. For tickets and more information go to ComeFromAway.com.