‘Come From Away’ musical shares heartwarming stories of 9/11 diverted planes

Come From Away
‘Come From Away’ hits the stage at Academy of Music on Feb. 7.
Matthew Murphy

When actor, theater maker and activist Christine Toy Johnson talks about her role in ‘Come From Away’ – Irene Sankoff and David Hein’s musical based on real-life events following the attacks of Sept. 11 – there is a poignancy in her voice tied to the themes of the play.

Philadelphia audiences will get the opportunity to see just how moving ‘Come From Away’ is when the musical plays at the Academy of Music on the Kimmel Cultural Campus from Feb. 7 to 12.

“The story was so well crafted, one where the writers spent so much time interviewing real people about their experiences in the days following 9/11, and what I love about it is that it is so grounded in humanity,” says Johnson.

Matthew Murphy

‘Come From Away’ tells the journey of 9/11 flights that were diverted from landing in U.S to Gander, a small town in Newfoundland, Canada, and how townspeople and flyers alike bonded in the uncomfortable unknowingness of the moment.

Johnson met and befriended the person she plays in ‘Come From Away’, Diane, and marvels about how the real-life person and the man she met that day, Nick, “fell in love, against-all-odds” and just celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary.

“I love getting to play Diane because of her openness, the joy she was open to experience even in the face of tragedy,” says Johnson. “The heart really shows through in the book and the lyrics of ‘Come From Away’ in a way that is so uplifting. The actors and the audience are impacted in a similar way.”

Reliving the horrific events that lead to ‘Come From Away’, as well as the healing aspects of what occurred between travelers and townspeople throughout the musical, is always on Johnson’s mind.

Matthew Murphy

“The writers always talk about this as a “9/12” story as it is more about what happens immediately following the tragedy,” says the actor. “It doesn’t ignore the tragedy, but rather gives us an additional lens in which to see them, a way to see how peoples’ better angels emerge. The people of Newfoundland brought healing to this new community with their intentional kindness, compassion and generosity.”

Being able to tell that story, in Johnson’s estimation, is a game-changer for herself and the audiences that see ‘Come From Away’ – especially at a time of cynicism and shallowness such as the present.

“It fills you with inspiration – you come through the other side of the 100 minutes on stage in a place of hope for how we can be, and how we can help each other.”

Having performed the show for the last five years, Johnson is absolutely thrilled by its continued positivity.

“That is something that doesn’t happen all the time on stage, these feel-good stories,” she says. “How people are kind to each other and extend themselves. I for one really appreciate the good vibes.”

Matthew Murphy

As someone who writes her own theater pieces and works regularly on Broadway, Johnson notes how robustly audiences are coming back to the theater after the ravages of the pandemic, and how a self-empowered creator must do whatever it takes to get their projects staged.

“We have to be open to the various ways in which we can get our stories out there,” she said. “I don’t let anything stop me when I have something to say or stop me from creating things. The creative impulse is something that I am constantly nurturing.”

‘Come From Away’ is on stage at Academy of Music on the Kimmel Cultural Campus, 240 S Broad St., from Feb. 7-12. For information and tickets, visit kimmelculturalcampus.org