As the world remembers the September 11 attacks 21 years later, a small town in Newfoundland has other memories of the following week. This story was captured in the hit Broadway musical Come from afar. now, like Come from afara little musical that could (and did), is preparing to end after more than five years, show creators David Hein and Irene Sankoff took the time to talk to Pleasemynews and reflect on the creation of the show and how it affected audiences for over five years.
When they started working on it, interviewing locals in 2011, neither Sankoff nor Hein had any idea that Come from afar would flourish in a Broadway hit other a cult favorite. sankoff said Pleasemynews“At first I dropped out of everyone except high schools and Canadian universities [performing it]: Who else would care but Canadians? It was CanCon—Canadian context. Children would be forced to study and do it. So every step. I was surprised.”
Hein added, “The fact that we were invited to a festival in New York was amazing. The fact that the producers there were interested in the show was amazing. And then the fact that we were able to do it in La Jolla. where Boys jersey was coming – it was amazing. Every step of the way was a gift and a surprise. And Broadway arrived. Then it went beyond Broadway. Now it’s in Argentina, and it’s opening in Finland this month. It’s amazing how far this little story of celebrating Newfoundland has gone. »
And it was sometimes a bit overwhelming. A major step in the show’s journey was production at the La Jolla Playhouse in 2016, where it was directed by Christopher Ashley. Sankoff said: “I remember waking up in the middle of the night before La Jolla and being like, I can’t do this. How am I going to go in there and take notes and do the rewrites that they have need us to do? We had an almost 2 year old at the time and a lot of people were like, ‘Well, David’s going to go, right?’ I’m like, I don’t think that David wants to go in. It won’t really work.
Working on what she then thought was destined to be just a Canadian high school favorite helped a bit. sankoff said Pleasemynews“There’s a kind of weird freedom to think, Oh, no one will ever do that beyond Canada and the most important thing is that we honor the people that the story is about, the people of Newfoundland.
“There was a lot of, ‘How are you going to do this, to make it commercial?’ And I was like, ‘You know what, I don’t think we want to do this. We want to do this in a way that if I ever sit down for coffee with one of the people that the story is about , I can do that and look them in the eye and say I told your story the best I could. And we sit with them often.
Petrina Bromley, the only Newfoundland native in the original cast, was a bit uncomfortable at first. She said before Pleasemynews that she feared that these strangers would come in and mock the locals. But when she arrived in La Jolla and did the first reading, her fears were acknowledged.
Hein said, “That’s all we ever wanted was for Newfoundlanders to say we got it right.”
Bromley, Sankoff said, “One of the first people we asked to be on the show. We had to go to New York and audition, and I was like, ‘I know it’s important to come from Earth -new and come to the audition. Please come down, and I’ll do everything in my power to show you. To call you back and get you picked, because I just knew we needed a Newfoundlander in the room.
Hein said, “I think Petrina was concerned that we were making a stereotypical version of Newfoundlanders, especially us who came from afar. We really wanted to do things right. We wanted the music to be correct: the accordion was out of tune; the reeds were just slightly out of tune, and it was played on a low-budget accordion. We wanted to get the accents exactly right. Because we wanted them to feel loved and celebrated.”
The staging is complex and precise. Kelly Devine’s choreography, while not traditional, is key to the show’s success. In fact, it’s easy to forget about it. Actors play many characters and move chairs and props, hit a mark, sing, and switch characters in a split second. One missed beat could send a whole scene off.
Hein says, “There are 12 chairs that look exactly the same with a million spiked stripes on the floor. And then what I like about it, that nobody really sees about the choreography and the staging, is that one of our Newfoundland girls, Petrina, started doing during rehearsal: at at one point there was a moment where two actors were backstage and one of them had to change characters…
“And they had to be in a different seat, and he had to be a different guy,” Sankoff quickly adds.
“And we knew,” Hein continues, “that Chris was about to ask us to change the sequence of the scenes. Because it just wouldn’t work from a directing standpoint. And then Petrina said, “Well, what if I just took his jacket? So she takes off Kevin T.’s jacket and [the actor] immediately switches from Kevin T. and becomes Garth.
“And everyone in the room was like, ‘Oh, that’s it what this show is about: it’s not about moving your chair to where you need it to be next. It’s about taking off someone else’s jacket and wearing it on the back while you sing your harmony for someone else, putting it on a chair so they can move it so someone else can pick it up, move it there and then it’s there for someone when they need it. It’s literally about helping people on stage and being there for your community on stage and moving the chair just in time for someone else to sit in it.
“It changed the whole show.
“And when you actually look at the staging, a million times like we did, when you see all these details, you notice these tiny little things: where a person is not in charge of their prop. A prop can get through the whole cast before it gets to the right person. And it’s this intricate magic trick that looks so simple. And the level of detail they put into it and the level of intricate thinking always blows our minds .
On and off stage, the staging brings the company together. sankoff said Pleasemynews“It’s a family. And now that the show is over and the guys on the team are in tears, you know, you have something special.”
Hein said, “The producers we have Sue [Fros] and randy [Adams] and Kenny and Marlene [Alhadeff [of Junkyard Dog Productions], I think they are some of the best producers we can have. They always include the entire crew, front of house, everyone is at every event.
Sankoff said, “Yeah, the maids are always at actors’ nights.”