This musical is much more uptempo and hopeful than you would expect. It certainly references the 9/11 attacks and who the passengers felt when they could not find their loved ones, but it focuses more on the humanity of the Gander residents. We learn that Gander is a town of around 7,000 which is ironic because they took in nearly 7,000 displaced people during the week of the attacks. The folksy, small town attitude of Gander is reflected in the music. The score is energetic and homey with a few more pensive ballads mixed in, though you won't leave humming any particular tune. The songs really run together, not because they aren't memorable, but because the pace of the show is so rapid and is directed in such a way that the action is nonstop with seamless transitions. Jenn Colella's "Me and the Sky" is a highlight as Beverly sings about her struggle to become one of the first successful female pilots. There is a lyric where she, reflecting on the terrorist attacks, says that the thing she loved most in the world was used as a bomb. It will darn near break your heart. This cast features Broadway veterans Chad Kimball and Kendra Kassebaum, though it is truly an ensemble piece with no leads in the traditional sense.
Christopher Ashley's direction and Kelly Devine's choreography are beautiful in their simplicity. Did they borrow the chairs from The Color Purple? The actors rarely leave the stage unless it is to grab a new shirt or take off a hat. The performers and chairs are the set, making everything from an airplane to a bar. This choice creates an often frantic and chaotic scene on stage that mimics what the Gander locals felt like when the size of their town doubled for those five days. I never once felt that I was watching a scene, but rather a continuous stream of action and emotion. The kindness of the people of Gander is palpable, as is the gratitude of the come from aways. I was emotional through the entire show and choked up several times when I remember that I wasn't just watching a performance, but a real story of the goodness that can emerge in horrifying situations.
I couldn't help but shed a tear when I thought about the people from my own small hometown. I know they would have reacted in exact same way that Gander did: cooking, gathering supplies, and hugging nonstop. I think people from small towns will appreciate this show a little more than city folk. We know our neighbors, we say hello to people in the grocery store, and we all know people like Annette, Bob, and Beulah. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will be attending opening night, and if it's good enough for him, it's good enough for me. We certainly owe a debt of gratitude to our neighbors up north for their role in helping America through that most horrific time of grieving.