Labradorite was first documented in the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador.  This wonderful gem displays an iridescent optical effect called labradorescence when the stone is turned to the light. An Inuit legend tells of a hunter who found the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) trapped in stone. He struck the rocks with his spear, releasing most of them to the sky but some still remain.

Picture Credit : Prokofiev

However, labradorite is not the only gem - the people there are gems too.  Both the rock and people are ordinary but when circumstances change, they show their true mettle. 

For the people of Gander, Newfoundland, that circumstance came 20 years ago, this Saturday. 

When the events of 9/11 occured, US airspace closed, forcing hundreds of planes to land elsewhere.  Canada launched Operation Yellow Ribbon - "Canada's goal was to ensure that potentially destructive air traffic be removed from United States airspace as quickly as possible, and away from potential U.S. targets, and instead place these aircraft on the ground in Canada." Up to 240 flights were diverted to 17 airports around the country.

38 flights with nearly 7,000 passengers and crew landed in Gander, Newfoundland which had a population at that time numbering only 9,000 +. Yet, this tiny community opened their hearts and homes to frightened strangers (and 17 animals plus a couple of bonobo chimpanzees) from around the world. They fed and housed them all for 5 days. There was so much food donated from communities around Newfoundland that they converted the local ice hockey rink into a cold storage facility!

Gander Airport as the planes began to stack up on 9/11

This story of kindness, compassion and care in the days following 9/11 still resonates. It's relevant today as we continue through a difficult global pandemic -  a shining example of the triumph of humanity over hate.  Of community over the individual. The people of Gander welcomed everyone - no matter where they were from, what religion they practiced, the color of their skin or their sexual orientation. They didn't judge. They didn't hesitate to help. 

Come from Away - book, music and lyrics by Canadian husband and wife team Irene Sankoff and David Hein - is the award winning musical which actually commemorates 9/12, not 9/11, and how a community responded to overwhelming need. 

A theatre recording will premiere and stream on AppleTV+ (also viewable on other devices which have the app) tomorrow, the day before the 20th anniversary of 9/11.  A one night only concert performed by the Broadway cast, will also be held on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Friday at 6 pm.  No tickets are required for that performance. 

The London, UK production at the Phoenix theatre has restarted. The Broadway production will resume on September 21, the Toronto production on December 7. 

I am a lifelong musical theatre fan and got to see this inspirational show in Toronto before the pandemic. Totally awed. Not surprisingly, every show has received standing ovations no matter where it played - London, New York and other US cities, Toronto, Australia. I highly recommend this musical on so many levels - the message, the performances, the moving story telling, the music and the simple but clever stage production of what is essentially a musical documentary. 

The music has a distinct East Coast Celtic flavor -  a large proportion of early immigrants to the province was Irish.  The people of Newfoundland call their home "The Rock" because it is a large rocky island.  Their accent and phrases are also unique.  They call people who are not from Newfoundland as those "who come from away". 

This is the opening number, Welcome to the Rock filmed at the 2017 Tony Awards with the original Broadway cast:

The "plane people" were totally bewildered at first because they did not find out until much later the full extent of 9/11. Few had cell phones back then and it took awhile before Gander could help them connect with their families to tell them they were safe.  

This utterly beautiful Prayer shows how the people of Gander found places for people to pray, no matter their faith. The actor who plays Kevin T sings the Peach Prayer of St Francis. The translations for the other prayers are in the video comments.  It begins with Hannah, who doesn't yet know the fate of her NY firefighter son.

There were passengers who spoke no English so the locals learned how to communicate with them.  Some whose cuisine was very different from that of Gander. Yet the locals rose to the challenge to make everyone feel welcome. School was closed for a week as the spaces were needed for the plane people. Gander teenagers volunteered and it was a transformative experience for them - an intense cultural exchange they would never have had otherwise. It changed their lives

There is also a lively scene when some passengers take part in Newfoundland's delightful but optional screech-in ceremony. Happy hour with a difference! It's for people who want to become honorary Newfoundlanders. It involves a shot of the local rum called Screech and kissing a fish - usually a frozen cod.  Here is an audio version of the Screech In complete with lyrics!

And an extract from the lively number, Heave Away complete with the ugly stick and fiddle music:

One of the funniest memories recounted by the passengers was hearing the local radio station appealing for more toilet paper donations.  A scant 30 minutes later, another announcement came : "For the love of God, stop bringing toilet paper to the Lions' Club!" They had run out of room to store them all.  What a contrast to the selfish people who hoarded toilet paper at the start of the pandemic.

Each of the 12 cast members deftly represent a few characters. Some are real individuals and some are composites.  One such person depicted in the musical was Beverley Bass who was the pilot on an American Airlines flight. She was the first female commercial airline captain in history. This is studio recording of Jenn Colella, who plays Beverly, singing Me and the Sky :

Meet the real Beverley Bass who recounts her experience :

And this heartwarming number comes near the end when the passengers get to leave.  The cast performs Somewhere in the Middle of Nowhere for Macy's Thanksgiving Parade in 2017.

In the aftermath, the people of Gander and the people who came from away, developed lasting friendships. Those bonds still hold today. Gander, not a wealthy community by any means, refused all offers of payment. They truly don't regard what they did as anything unusual. How would your community react if faced with the same formidable situation?

Do watch this wonderful documentary about the real people who were there from 9/12 and beyond : Gander's Ripple Effect: How a Small Town's Kindness Opened on Broadway. It was very touching to see the cast meet the real people they played and to deliver their performances in Gander before the show opened in New York. 

The director of the show, Christopher Ashley, said in this recent ABC News article :
The show remains the same, but people look at it with these different lenses at different points in time. People will absolutely be thinking about the pandemic and that sense of uncertainty that we’ve all had to learn to live with about what’s going to come next, which was very alive and heightened during 9/11.
Irene Sankoff,  one of the writers, said :
That’s the point of the show: You overcome differences and you take care of one another in response to darkness.
Come From Away is truly a musical gem for all time. Not to be missed. 


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Original Post by THE BEADING GEM