Next month marks the 20th anniversary of the deadly terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Ford’s Theatre is marking the occasion with a special production of the 9/11 musical “Come From Away” on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Friday, Sept. 10 at 6 p.m.
“We wanted to open with a bang,” Ford’s Theatre Director Paul Tetreault told WTOP. “Everyone has been shut down for over 18 months. … I started thinking about ‘Come From Away’ and 9/11, realizing it was the 20th anniversary, and I thought, ‘Wow, maybe we can incorporate this megahit we had five years ago … to commemorate the 9/11 anniversary.”
The musical made its East Coast premiere at Ford’s Theatre in September 2016, winning the Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Musical, before dominating Broadway with seven Tony nominations, including a win for Best Direction of a Musical (Christopher Ashley).
“It was a phenomenal run and probably one of the biggest hits in Ford’s history,” Tetreault said. “When we did it then, it was the 15th anniversary of 9/11. We worked with the New York producers and connected with Pentagon survivors … in a way that made it not just a theatrical event but a commemorative event. The show has that kind of message.”
Written by Irene Sankoff and David Hein, the show is based on a true story in the week after 9/11 when 38 planes were ordered to land in the small Canadian town of Gander in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador as part of Operation Yellow Ribbon.
“Gander was the furthest [airport] on the Eastern Seaboard where before we could cross the ocean, planes had to refuel there,” Tetrault said. “It had not been used for decades. When they grounded all these planes, they said, ‘Send them to Gander.’ Suddenly you had a village of 9,000 people that had another 7,000 people who landed in their laps.”
It’s a triumphant tale of the human spirit as a village bands together to help stranded travelers over an uncertain span of five days when the world around them was reeling.
“This musical is about how those people rose up and said, ‘These are fellow passengers of the world. We will take them in, we will shelter them, feed them, clothe them,'” Tetrault said. “It’s a remarkable story, it’s wonderful music, and it’s so uplifting and inspiring.”
Which musical numbers are his favorites in the production?
“There’s a great anthem, ‘Welcome to the Rock,’ which opens the piece,” Tetrault said. “There’s a wonderful number in the second act about a Newfoundland tradition … that takes place in a bar in this Canadian town. There’s so many wonderful styles of music: uplifting tunes, ballads, spiritual songs, it’s really quite spectacular.”
Admission is free with seating areas around the Reflecting Pool.
“It’s 100 minutes, no intermission,” Tetrault said. “Bring your family, bring your friends, bring a blanket and bring a picnic. … There’s going to be jumbotrons because the Ford’s Theatre stage is 500 people but we’re hoping there will be 5,000 people for this concert. … Live musicians are coming down from New York for the project, so it will all be live music.”
It’s fitting that New York and D.C. are teaming on this project as the two cities attacked on that tragic day. The Lincoln Memorial is also a fitting backdrop since Ford’s Theatre was the site of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, another tragic event in American history.
“After the year and a half that we’ve had where we are still today a very divided country, I think about 9/11 [as] the last time our country was truly united,” Tetrault said. “If we can present that story and share that moment again … maybe people can remember what it was like when we worked together and all pushed together in the same direction.”