The brainchild of Paul Tetreault, director of Ford’s Theatre, the concert performance of “Come From Away” will be offered free in its entirety beneath the towering statue of Abraham Lincoln on Sept. 10 at 6 p.m., hours before the anniversary. Fifty members of the cast, crew and orchestra will travel from Broadway to the Mall to bring the show to life for an audience that could number in the many thousands.
“This is a celebration of coming back,” Tetreault said. “It’s an acknowledgment of 9/11, which for me was a time this country was really together and united. And we’re so divided now.
“There’s not a better story to tell to have people acknowledge that in darkness, there can be hope, there can be the promise of a better tomorrow.”
That sentiment is shared by the lead producers of the show, Sue Frost and Randy Adams, who brought the production for a pivotal tryout at Ford’s in 2016, before opening on Broadway. When Tetreault approached them with his idea two months ago, they jumped aboard immediately.
“The message is always relevant,” Adams said in a call with Frost. “And now more than ever.”
Tetreault said that in putting together the concert performance, his goal was to have the return of Ford’s Theatre stand out during a celebratory season of renewal. The theater’s historic connection to Lincoln’s assassination gave a special poignancy to staging theater in the shadow of the monumental statue.
“I reached out to Sue Frost, and I said, “I have this really crazy idea and you may just hate it,’ ” Tetreault recalled. She didn’t. “Well, that’s not so crazy,” Frost recalled telling him. “Now we just had to figure out how to make it happen. If something feels right, it really falls into place.”
The aptness of “Come From Away” for a 9/11 remembrance is irrefutable. Its success on Broadway — where it has run for more than 1,200 performances and resumes at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre on Sept. 21 — owes to its singularly uplifting spirit. The married team of Irene Sankoff and David Hein conducted interviews with both residents of Gander, Newfoundland, and some of the 7,000 “Plane People,” who were stuck there for days after air travel was grounded in the United States due to concerns about more terrorist attacks. Out of those conversations came the book and score for “Come From Away,” a portrait of the town’s compassion and caring for strangers, which won a Tony Award for its director, Christopher Ashley.
A concert version of “Come From Away” already exists, and has been performed in Gander. The heavy-lifting logistics, though, have been left to Tetreault and his staff.
“Any time you do something on the National Mall, it’s very expensive for all the right reasons,” Tetreault said, explaining that multiple permits must be obtained, including those for the Jumbotrons and hospitality tent that will be set up. Security, too, is a foremost concern. The cost of the one-time event, he said, will be “north of half a million dollars.” Ford Motor Co. and General Dynamics are underwriting the evening, Tetreault added.
The 105-minute musical is envisioned as a come-as-you-are outdoor extravaganza, filling the Mall with as many spectators as possible. “There are no tickets required,” Tetreault said. “The public is welcome to bring their own picnics and blankets and make an evening of it.”
The musical is being staged on the eve of 9/11 rather than on the anniversary out of respect for those for whom the date is a reminder of private grief. “We didn’t want to detract from the actual day,” Frost said.
Details remain to be worked out, such as whether actors from the Broadway production or the national tour will perform. And Tetreault said he wants to invite members of the Biden administration and other prominent figures. Canada, too, has embraced “Come From Away” as an ideal expression of its national character: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been a vocal and visible supporter of the show.
“After the year and a half that we have been through, I feel this is a gift to the city, a gift to the region,” Tetreault said. “But it’s also a reminder of the impact the arts can have on these momentous occasions. The arts can be something that brings us together and something that helps us heal.”