Come From Away is the extraordinary true story of a community that formed in the wake 9/11. When the airspace over North America was closed and planes were grounded, the town of Gander in Newfoundland suddenly found itself home to more than 6,500 passengers and crew. Come From Away will arrive at the Hippodrome on Tuesday 21 May.

A total of 38 planes carrying 6,579 people and 19 animals touched down in Gander, almost doubling its 10,000-strong population.

This story created inspiration for an equally remarkable musical by Irene Sankoff and David Hein. It celebrates human spirit and shows how people are at their best when faced with the worst.

Inspired beginnings

Ontario-born Irene and Robert were in New York on 9/11 and reflecting on their own experiences of being in New York of finding the help from local communities’ so special, they were inspired to tell stories of others who had experienced the same kindness during such a tragic time.

On the tenth anniversary of the attacks, the writing partners travelled to Newfoundland to interview the townsfolk as well as the ‘come from aways’ who had journeyed back there to mark the occasion. They found the locals to be just as welcoming as they were to the come from aways back in 2001.

Their stories were developed into a 100-minute musical, with Irene saying: “It’s so important to be sharing the story of people who reacted to something horrible in a positive light. We spend so much time focussing on the negative and I think it’s important to show the other side – people responding with kindness and people responding as a community.”

David Hein feels the show spreads a vital message. “Right now, it feels important to tell stories about overcoming differences and coming together as an international community. It’s wonderful to take a story that has inspired you and share it with the world and see it inspire other people.”

The real people on the plane

Audiences continue to be amazed by the shows’ collection of real-life characters, including Gander town mayor Claude Elliot.

Elliot himself recalls: “On the first day we had 7,000 strangers. On the third day we had 7,000 friends. And on the fifth day 7,000 family members.” Among those strangers turned friends and family members, were an eager local news reporter, the mother of a New York firefighter desperate for the news of her so, and the first female American Airlines captain Beverly Bass.

Seeing the real story brought to life on stage

Being interviewed by Sankoff and Hein back in 2011 brought back so many memories for the aviation trailblazer, Captain Bass. When she and her passengers deplaned, there were tables and tables of food waiting for them in the terminal.

“The people of Gander, I guess, had cooked all night long,” Bass recounts. “I mean, there was food for everybody. I knew immediately that the people were the nicest people I have ever been around in my life. It didn’t matter what you needed or what you wanted; it was there.”

In 2015 she got a call from the producers inviting her to see the show in San Diego. “I had no idea that my role was so prominent, and I certainly didn’t know that a song had been written called Me and the Sky, which basically chronicles my aviation life. It was astounding. By the end of it, my head was buried in my hands because I was just sobbing.”

Strangers turned family

Complete strangers Nick Marson and Diane Kirschke were on the same flight from Gatwick bound for Texas.

They were both divorced and not seeking romance, but across their five-day stay where they were invited to get-togethers and singalongs, they fell for each other. When their plane finally took off again, they were smitten.

The couple kept in touch through emails and phone calls before Nick proposed on the phone two months later. He moved to the US soon afterwards, they got married in 2002 and had their honeymoon in Newfoundland.

Nick said: “While 9/11 was about the worst of humanity, what happened in Gander over those five days was about the best of humanity. Those people opened their town and their hearts to us. It’s a story of human kindness.”

Come From Away plays at Birmingham Hippodrome from 21 May to 1 June. Tickets are on sale now and can be booked here.