Come From Away – Irene Sankoff and David Hein's new musical about the 38 flights diverted to Gander, Nfld., on Sept. 11 – is headed to Broadway in the spring of 2017, Junkyard Dogs Productions is set to announce on Tuesday.
But the hotly tipped Canadian show's flight path to the commercial theatre capital of North America will include two more planned stops along the way – one in Washington at Ford's Theatre in September and the other in Toronto in November as part of Mirvish Productions 2016-17 season.
For wife-and-husband team of Sankoff and Hein, bringing their Broadway-bound production to the area where its journey began and the country where its story is set was personally very important.
"Toronto and Oakville are where it was born," says Hein, who along with Sankoff also created the charming 2009 Toronto-Fringe-to-Mirvish hit, My Mother's Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding. "There's a lot in [this] about giving back to the community that helped develop it."
Sankoff adds, "I'm excited for my mom to see it – and my mom can't travel."
The idea for Come From Away was first proposed to Sankoff and Hein by Sheridan College's associate dean Michael Rubinoff – and the show started as a 45-minute presentation that was part of the Oakville college's then-new Canadian Music Theatre Project in 2011.
Later, in 2013, a longer version had a staged reading at the Panasonic Theatre in Toronto and a run at Theatre Sheridan with student performers.
That same year, Sankoff and Hein's show was snapped up by Junkyard Dog Productions – the commercial producers behind Memphis, the 2010 winner of the Tony Award for best musical.
It's professional success since then has been impressive. In 2015, Come From Away had two popular and critically acclaimed runs on the West Coast in a production directed by Tony nominee Christopher Ashley – one at the La Jolla Playhouse in California, the other at Seattle Repertory Theatre.
The musical picked up six awards at San Diego's Craig Noel Awards, broke all box-office records at Seattle Rep, and ended up on many critics' end-of-year lists in California and Washington. A Variety rave noted, "Commercial prospects are bright for this surefire source of laughter and tears."
Indeed, the buzz behind Come From Away has been loud enough that many expected Junkyard would take it straight to New York next season (waiting first for the juggernaut hip-hop musical Hamilton to clean up at this year's Tony Awards). A Canadian stop seemed even more unlikely with the dropping dollar.
But with time to kill and many theatre companies still clamouring for the show, the opportunity to test it in different markets and continue tinkering was too good to pass up. "It's a story about cross-border collaboration, so developing it on both sides of the border meant a lot to us," Hein says.
Sankoff notes the show has received different reactions in different cities: "For the La Jolla production, we talked about Tim Hortons – and no one flinched. You mention it in Seattle and everyone laughs."
If Timmys jokes are still untested in New York, it's because Canadian musicals on Broadway remain rare – with ones that have found financial success there even rarer.
Cliff Jones's Rockabye Hamlet (1976), John Grey and Eric Peterson's Billy Bishop Goes to War (1980) and Neil Bartram and Brian Hill's The Story of My Life (2009) all shuttered less than two weeks after opening on the Great White Way.
Opening in 2006, however, The Drowsy Chaperone became a hit – and earned Tony Awards for all four of the metamusical's creators, Bob Martin, Don McKellar, Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison.
That Canadian record is not at all unusual, statistically. According to most estimates, only one in five musicals recoup its costs on Broadway – yet another reason for in-demand shows to add stops on the road. Hein says, "We're not rushing anything, but enjoying each step along the way."