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The West End Cast of Come From Away. Photo credit: Helen Maybanks

The West End cast of Come From Away. Photo credit: Helen Maybanks

The true stories of Come From Away

Eleni Cashell

By Eleni Cashell First Published 18 January 2019, Last Updated 6 November 2019

Come From Away is the latest Broadway sensation to hit the UK shores, and with such a heart-warming story to tell, it’s not hard to see why it’s making a move over here.

Come From Away tells the incredible true story of 7,000 passengers, who were on their way to different parts of America when the tragedy of 9/11 struck. As the American air space closed, 38 planes were grounded in the Newfoundland community of Gander, Canada.

In the face of tragedy, the community gave the passengers the warmest of welcomes, opening up their homes, schools, churches and anywhere else that could be turned into temporary accommodation for the “plane people”. The small town suddenly doubled in population for several days, and this musical is the story of what happened, and the effect it had on passengers and the Gander community.

The show has been a huge success across the ocean since its first performance (in Gander would you believe), and was nominated for seven Tony Awards, going onto win Best Direction of a Musical.

The relatively small cast of 14 actors each play several parts within the show, and with simple costume changes, they transform from plane passenger to Newfoundland residents.

But did you know that many of the characters in the show are based on real-life people? Here’s a little backstory on some of the real people who inspired the main characters in the show.

Beverley Bass (played by Rachel Tucker)

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Captain Beverley Bass was one of the pilots who was instructed to divert her route to Gander. She was meant to be flying from Paris to Dallas but ended up spending 28 hours on the Gander runway, awaiting information.

Obsessed with planes from a young age, Beverley is an extraordinary woman who loves to fly. Her incredible career is documented in Come From Away, as well as her love of flying, as she’s eager to get back in the sky from the moment she’s grounded.

Beverley was the first ever female pilot to be made a captain by American Airlines. She progressed up the ranks after many years being a flight instructor, flight engineer and flying small aircrafts. Beverley went onto make global news again when she led the first ever all-female crew from Washington DC to Dallas. Basically, she’s a legend.

 

Bonnie Harris (played by Mary Doherty)

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As well as the people, Bonnie Harris had another concern when 38 planes landed in her hometown; the animals on board.

A manager of a Gander animal shelter, Bonnie ensured any on-board animals were fed and cared for, just like their owners. In fact, Bonnie was the first person to ask officials about the number of animals on board and their wellbeing.

On the second day of the planes being stranded in Gander, Bonnie couldn’t wait any longer. She teamed up with two other women (Vi and Linda), and went into the planes to check up on the animals.

They spent an incredible 10 hours in cramped and dirty conditions checking on each and every animal. Amongst the pets left on board was an epileptic cat (with its medicine strapped to its crate) and two rare Bonobo chimps. Bonnie later managed to convince officials to let the animals off the plane and get them moved to a hangar where they could be probably cared for.

Bonnie Harris; saviour of the animals.

 

Diane and Nick (played by Helen Hobson and Robert Hands)

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An unlikely thing blossomed when the planes were diverted; romance.

Diane and Nick were on the same plane, originally heading from London to Dallas, and got chatting while they were stuck on the runway. An unlikely couple, Diane was flying home to Dallas, while Londoner Nick was travelling there for business.

As well as being on the same plane, fate had them staying at the same place during their time in Canada. They both ended up at the Society of United Fishermen Hall in Gambo for four days, about 30 miles outside of Gander. Over the next few days, the pair formed a close relationship as they went sightseeing and spent evenings with the locals.

But do Diane and Nick get a happy ever after? Or will the circumstances of their meeting prove to be too hard to deal with? You’ll have to watch Come From Away to find out!

 

The Kevins (played by Jonathan Andrew Hume and David Shannon)

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The two Kevins (Kevin T and Kevin J) were a gay couple on their way home to Texas when their plane was diverted to Gander. They befriended many of the other show’s characters during their time there, including Diane and Nick.

Like many of the passengers that day, Kevin T was incredibly affected by his time in Gander. In fact, as a CEO of a marketing firm, every year on 11 September, Kevin closes the office and gives his employees $100 each to do a good deed for a stranger. It’s his way of giving something back after he’d received such kindness from others. Originally something he did internally at his own company, this has grown into the Pay-It-Forward 9/11 foundation, which encourages everyone to do three good deeds on that date each year.

 

Beulah Cooper and Hannah O’Rourke (played by Jenna Boyd and Cat Simmons)

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Cat-Simmons-Come-From-Away-Cast-Member-Credit-Helen-Maybanks

Come From Away charts some of the special friendships started between the passengers and the people of Gander, and one of the particularly moving bonds is between Beulah Cooper and Hannah O’Rourke.

Hannah was one of the passengers who had been diverted and was incredibly worried about her son, who was a firefighter in Brooklyn. Kevin’s base wasn’t far away from the Twin Towers, so Hannah was understandably distraught when she couldn’t get hold of her son, and no one seemed to know where he was or if he was safe. Hannah spent her days in Gander calling her son’s voicemail and waiting by the phone, waiting to hear from him.

Beulah was helping out passengers, making trays of sandwiches and taking people shopping for clothes. Her own son was a volunteer firefighter, so she emphasised with Hannah’s situation. Beulah frequently checked in Hannah, comforting her and telling her bad jokes to distract her.

To this day, the two women are the best of friends.

 

Claude Elliott (played by Clive Carter)

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The big cheese of Gander back then (and today), Claude Elliott is the mayor of the town. He is incredibly involved in the town and has a good relationship with the community.

When the planes arrived in Gander, Claude was dealing with bus driver strikes; not ideal timing given passengers needed buses to transport them to wherever they were staying! Luckily, the feuding sides decided to temporarily stop squabbling, as bus drivers quickly agreed to help out.

Claude played an incredibly important part in this story, orchestrating everyone’s movements and ensuring all passengers were well looked after over those several days.

 

Oz Fudge (played by Harry Morrison)

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One of just two town police officers in Gander, Oz Fudge was responsible for community-orientated enforcements in the town. His job included duties like handing out traffic tickets, dealing with public disorders and minor offences.

But when the passengers landed, Oz jumped into action, helping wherever he could and ensuring everyone felt safe and sound. He even arranged a birthday party after discovering that some of the passengers were sick children who were meant to be at Disney World.

Now you know the real stories, why not go watch the musical and see how these stories tie together? Come From Away is currently on at the Phoenix Theatre, and you can find tickets through the link below!

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