Photo: Matthew Murphy

Since seeing “Come From Away” at Belk Theater Tuesday night, I’ve listened nonstop to the musical’s soundtrack. If you’re planning to see it, be prepared to leave the show with a few earworms.

About the show

“Come From Away” hit the stage in 2013 and tells the true story of thousands of plane passengers forced to take refuge in the small Canadian town known as Gander during the 9/11 attacks.

If you think this show will tug at the heartstrings or make your eyes well up, you’re right.

But there’s more to it than that. 

The play follows the “plane people” and the Gander locals over five days as they try to make sense of the devastating terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 that claimed the lives of 2,996 people. Despite the tragedy the show is based on, “Come From Away” has a balanced tone, a cast of endearing characters and some of the catchiest songs I’ve heard. 

Choosing a favorite

The one I’ve had on repeat the past few days is called “38 planes.” I even listened to it as I wrote this review. 

There’s a lot to appreciate about the song, from the layered vocals to the gut punch feeling passengers have as they count the number of planes around them also making emergency landings. 

When you listen closely, you can hear the increasing fear in their voices through each line. This, in tandem with the Gander locals frantically scrambling to prepare for the arrival of thousands of refugees, makes for a taut and emotional piece. 

I promise I won’t spoil the payoff in the reprise, but it’s good.  

What I didn’t expect

Since this play is based on a real-life tragedy, I didn’t expect to laugh as hard or often as I did. With such a heavy topic, the show knows when to slow down to portray grief and fear and when to add some levity. 

The balance doesn’t just show through heartwarming moments like the characters connecting and through quick jokes, recurring gags, and funny character quirks. 

Another surprise was how often the characters “broke the fourth wall” and directly addressed the audience throughout the play. It made the experience more fun and engaging. 

What I enjoyed most

Despite its small cast, “Come From Away” has a very diverse lineup of characters, thanks to each actor playing multiple roles.

The show shares how the emergency landings affected people of different nationalities, sexual orientations, religious beliefs and more. 

Without giving too much away, the play also highlights the increase of discrimination against Middle Eastern people in the wake of the attacks, portrays the culture shock of a Black man in Gander; and shows the caution a gay couple felt in deciding whether to be open about their relationship. 

All these characters and more make for a balanced and diverse cast that many audience members can relate to. 

What I didn’t like/what I wish was different

Due to the large Irish population in Newfoundland, much of the cast spoke with Irish accents. I sometimes struggled to understand what they said over the background music. 

As the play progressed, however, I became more familiar with the accents, and it became easier to make out what the Newfoundland characters were saying. 

Final verdict

“Come From Away” has something for everyone. It has romance, humor and touching moments, all while recognizing the impact of 9/11. The score combines ballads and group ensembles that blend Irish folk and classic rock. 

Note: The play has brief instances of profanity and sexual references. 

If you go

Amanda was born and raised in Charlotte and graduated from UNC Charlotte with a Bachelor’s in Communications and English. She covers Mecklenburg County. Reach her at

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