‘Come From Away’ creators reflect on Gander at Tonys

As the married co-creators of “Come From Away” celebrated a Tony Award win, their hearts were with the people of Gander, N.L., whose uplifting stories inspired the hit homegrown musical honoured among Broadway’s best.

“Come From Away” headed into Sunday night’s ceremony in New York with seven nominations, including a nod for best musical.

Christopher Ashley won for best director of a musical, but the show was shut out in all other categories. ”Dear Evan Hansen” emerged as the big musical winner with six awards.

Canadian co-creators Irene Sankoff and David Hein attended several Tony after-parties, including a “Come From Away” celebration and a bash at the famed Sardi’s restaurant. But as the duo partied into the wee hours, they couldn’t stop thinking about the residents of Gander.

“Come From Away” is set in the remote East Coast town in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks. Gander saw its population swell as the town sheltered 6,579 passengers and crew from 38 planes diverted when U.S. air space was closed.

“The entire night last night we were thinking about the parties that they were having out in Gander and we knew Chris was thinking exactly the same thing,” Hein said in a phone interview Monday.

“They’ve been in our heads the entire time because (the show) was based on our interviews with them. So they’ve not only followed us on Facebook, and cheered us on online and in person when they come to the show, but they’ve been in our hearts the entire time… It’s their story. It’s this story about how they welcomed the world and gave the world so much.”

The province made its presence felt in Radio City Music Hall during the Tonys ceremony as Sankoff and Hein noticed a Newfoundland flag waving from the rafters.

“Two lovely Newfoundlanders had come, and we all cheered and they cheered down at us and we thanked them and they thanked us,” said Hein. “It was a just a lovely moment and they came down and we all hugged.”

The Newfoundland love also extended to the Tony stage.

Sankoff said it “blew her mind” to see host Kevin Spacey and “The View” co-host Whoopi Goldberg engaged in tongue-in-cheek banter with a nod to “The Rock” to kick off the telecast. The Tony winners had both seen “Come From Away” and Goldberg had even sent pies to the cast, said Sankoff.

It wasn’t the couple’s only brush with fame at the star-studded ceremony. They also met “Star Wars” icon Mark Hamill on the red carpet.

“He is an avid theatre-goer and was so excited about this season and so excited to be coming to ‘Come From Away,’ and loved the story behind it. And it was really cool,” said Hein.

“It’s really amazing meeting your heroes and just realizing they’re incredible people.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who saw the play in March, also offered his congratulations to Ashley.

“Thanks for bringing the story of Gander to life on stage,” he tweeted.

“Come From Away” picked up a slew of prizes en route to the Tonys, with outstanding musical honours from New York’s Drama Desk Awards and Outer Critics Circle Awards, and the Helen Hayes Awards in Washington, D.C.

The show is also in contention for Toronto’s Dora Mavor Moore Awards later this month and is up for a pair of honours at September’s Chita Rivera Awards, which recognize theatrical dance and choreography on stage, film and TV.

“Come From Away” is also preparing for a North American tour next year, as well as a sit-down production at Toronto’s Royal Alexandra Theatre.

“Nothing compares to sharing this story with our friends in Newfoundland, to sharing this experience with our incredible ‘Come From Away’ family and with audiences every day,” said Hein.

“We’re so blessed and so lucky, and we have the best job in the world.”

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