NEW YORK — The married co-creators of “Come From Away” were celebrating their six-year-journey from Gander, N.L., to the bright lights of Broadway on Tuesday as their uplifting, made-in-Canada theatrical production scored seven Tony Awards nominations, including a nod for best musical.
“Come From Away” is only the second Canadian-written show in the 71-year history of the Tonys to vie for best musical, following 2006’s “The Drowsy Chaperone,” which won five awards.
“It’s everything that we could have wished for and more, it’s so incredible. And we’re so proud to be telling this Canadian story and sharing with the world everything that we love about Canada and Newfoundland,” said Regina-born, Saskatoon-raised co-creator David Hein in a phone interview from New York.
“Come From Away” is set in Gander in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks. The remote East Coast town saw its population double in size as it sheltered 6,579 passengers and crew from planes diverted when U.S. air space was closed.
The feel-good musical will compete against “Dear Evan Hansen,” “Groundhog Day: The Musical,” and “Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812” for the prestigious best musical Tony.
Hein and his wife, Toronto-native Irene Sankoff, received two of the show’s nominations, with nods for best book and best score of a musical.
“I did a sort of fist pump in the air. I was just so proud,” said Sankoff. “I felt like I was at a sporting event and we scored the first goal.
“I’m not a sports person, but it felt like we were really in the game.”
Sankoff and Hein travelled to Gander for the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and spent a month there gathering true-life tales of humour, hospitality and heroism from locals, which they later translated into their theatrical work.
“We’re so honoured to be telling this story and having the story recognized,” said Hein.
“What they did — it’s just such an honour to be sharing it and to be having that recognized.”
Jenn Colella, who plays real-life retired airline Capt. Beverley Bass, earned a Tony nomination in the best actress in a featured role in a musical category.
“I figured by the sheer number of texts coming in that something good must have happened for me,” said Colella of how she learned of the good news.
Other “Come From Away” nominations included Christopher Ashley for best musical director, Howell Binkley for best lighting design in a musical, and Kelly Devine for best choreography in a musical.
Tuesday morning’s nomination announcement was being watched in Gander, where some local residents gathered at a legion hall to celebrate. Mayor Claude Elliot, who is portrayed by Joel Hatch in the show, said he thinks the appeal of “Come From Away” is as simple as it is universal.
“I think it’s the human kindness, the generosity. And what I’ve heard on my travels in going to different places and talking to people, it’s something that a lot of people don’t experience, especially in the United States,” said Elliott, adding the affirming message of “Come From Away” is especially timely.
News stories published following the show’s Broadway debut in March and a visit to New York by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau linked the kind attitudes reflected by Canadians following 9/11 and the welcoming of refugees, immigrants and outsiders.
Trudeau’s visit coincided with news that a court ordered a halt on U.S. President Donald Trump’s executive action freezing refugee processing and limiting travel from a handful of majority-Muslim countries.
“American people right now are looking for something to hang onto. And this is definitely a good-news story,” said Elliott.
“It’s about helping people with wanting nothing in return, and that’s what probably the world is missing today, more of that. That’s our way of life here.”
“Come From Away” earned mostly rave reviews when the production made its Broadway debut. Prior to its arrival in New York, the musical was staged in La Jolla, Calif., Washington, D.C., Seattle and Toronto.
The show has also received a slew of nominations from the Drama League Awards, the Drama Desk Awards, the Outer Critics Circle Awards, the Chita Rivera Awards and the Helen Hayes Awards.
Kevin Spacey will host the 71st annual Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall in New York on June 11.