What We Learned From Writing Our Smash Broadway Musical Come From Away
Writers-composers-lyricists David Hein and Irene Sankoff reflect on the lessons they’ve learned with two years on Broadway under their belt—and more coming their way.
Like the 7,000 stranded passengers who landed in Gander, Newfoundland, in 2001, the remarkable true story of kindness we tell in Come From Away has changed our lives forever. When we first traveled to Gander, we hoped to write a musical that Canadian high schools might be forced to perform—so this show has taken us on a journey beyond our wildest dreams. As we begin our third year on Broadway here are eight things we never expected.
READ: How Broadway’s Come From Away Went from an Unknown Show to Sold-Out Broadway Smash
• At our first workshop we passed the hat for the Gander SPCA. Seven years later, we’ve raised enough for them to buy a new shelter. Our cast and crew truly embody our show’s message, giving benefit concerts, food bank donations, and constant acts of kindness to strangers.
• Every night we see amazing connections happening. At the stage door one night, a couple who wanted to travel to Newfoundland were connected with actual Newfoundlanders—and then planned a trip together.
• We’re always surprised how the show resonates with kids who weren’t even born in 2001, from young girls inspired to be pilots to classes beginning to understand how the world changed that day. Educators across the country have begun using this story as a safe way to teach this moment in history by focusing on how people came together and helped in a time of need.
• We never expected how much screech we would drink or how many times we would have to watch people kissing a fish.
READ: Watch Times Square Tourists 'Kiss the Cod' With the Cast of Come From Away
• When we started writing, we didn’t have a daughter—and now she’s five! They say it takes a village to raise a child, and it takes an even bigger village to raise a child while raising a musical. Our Newfoundland and Come From Away villages have taught her (and us) that we can respond with kindness to tragedy—and hopefully respond with kindness every day.
• We love that people return to the show to share the experience with their family and friends, as when Chelsea Clinton came back with her parents or when Justin Trudeau invited Ivanka Trump.
• There’s never a bad time to tell a story about human kindness, but now, when our social media feeds are filled with divisiveness, anger, and fear, it feels like it’s particularly important to tell a story about welcoming strangers and coming together despite our differences.
• Come From Away earned a Tony Award for our director, Christopher Ashley, and won Best Musical awards across North America, with companies in Toronto, London, and on national tour, but what means the most to us is when survivors and their family members come to the show and tell us that it is a respectful testament to those they lost, adding a memory of hope to that day.