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Ian Cheeseman: Break-a-Leg

Sometimes fact is stranger than fiction and I think that applies to the story behind Come From Away, the Musical which ran so successfully on Broadway and in the West End and is now touring around the country.

The story takes place in September 2001. I’m sure that’s a date, which we usually refer to as 9/11, that everyone will remember as long as they live. As two planes crashed into New York’s World Trade Center, another into the Pentagon and a fourth came down in field in Pennsylvania during a passenger revolt. It was one of the worst terrorist attacks we’d ever seen.

As a result of what was unfolding, all planes that were in the air were told to land at the nearest airport. Those flying over the Atlantic, and more than half way there, headed for Newfoundland, Canada as that first available place of safety. On that fateful day 38 passenger planes carrying nearly 7,000 passengers were quickly crowding onto every available space on their tarmac. It was called Operation Yellow Ribbon.

As news of what was happening reached the residents of Gander, which had a population of around 10,000, a traffic jam of cars headed towards the airport to help those people, from all over the World, who were now stranded, anxious, hungry and without a bed for the night.

The story of what happened next has been turned into a multi award-winning Musical. The locals welcomed the strangers who had “Come From Away” into their homes. The characters on stage, in the show, are real people and many of those who played crucial roles in the real-life story. Now it’s a Musical to the tunes and lyrics of Irene Sankoff and David Hein.

I was invited a launch event at the Lowry Theatre in Salford, last week, where we were treated to a couple of songs sung live by the cast. We heard from some of the actors too about what the show means to them. One of the cast is a family friend. Oliver Jacobson plays Oz and other characters in the show. Among his previous roles was being the alternate Elder Cunningham in Book of Mormon in the West End. We saw him in that role and he was brilliant.

About Come From Away Oliver told me, “It’s a unique show. It takes place over the five days that the passengers were stranded in Gander. It’s a wonderful story of how the human race can be kind and supportive in adversity. When people know the outline of the story they might think it’s going to be sad, but audiences leave the theatre smiling about just how good humanity can actually be. The score is fantastic too.

“These 7,000 people start off as strangers but within a couple of days they are friends and by the time they leave they’re saying goodbye to family members. Would we do what they did, opening their doors to complete strangers in need? If something like that happened in our town, we’re conditioned to say no thanks and close the door but this town just gave them whatever they needed. It’s such an uplifting story, that’s why I love it so much.”

You can hear my interview with Oliver on my radio show this week and if you fancy seeing the show, it’ll be at the Lowry in Salford from 3rd December to 5th January. I went to the Liverpool Empire to see it last week and it was amazing. It’s 100 minutes without an interval. I highly recommend you see it if you can.

I was also at Manchester’s Palace Theatre last week to see Sister Act, which is one of my absolute favourite musicals. There are still a couple more days to go before it moves elsewhere. If you get a chance to see it, you won’t regret it.

Join me (Every!) Sunday from 7pm for all things Theatrical & Musical Theatre with great guests and wonderful music. See you Sunday and Break-a-Leg!


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