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"Come From Away" mayor overwhelmed by 9/11 musical

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte

Posted: Monday, September 30, 2019

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Being a character in a hit Broadway musical wasn't exactly on Claude Elliott's radar on Sept. 11, 2001.

And the former mayor of Gander, Newfoundland, doesn't hide his surprise that "Come From Away" a) exists, and b) has had the Tony Award-winning box office success it has during the past six years.

"It's surprising to see that you are now a character," Elliott says by phone about the production, which tells the story of how his town hosted and sheltered 7,000 travelers whose flights were diverted to Gander when air space was cleared in the wake of the 911 attacks. "What happened here during 9/11, when we had the opportunity to help those stranded people for a few days, it's just what we do help people in a time of need.

"When they all went back to their homes, our job was done. We want back to our way of life, and we were never going to hear about it anymore."

The hospitality and compassion shown by Gander and its environs, of course, has become a legend. Deep friendships were made between the travelers and their hosts, and many come back to the town for reunions and 9/11 anniversaries. "Come From Away," which began workshopping during 2012 and became the longest-running Canadian-created production on Broadway, has immortalized the story, and Elliott, an avid supporter of and ambassador for the musical, says he and others in Gander are flattered and humbled.

"It's different for us," he says. "The best thing, I think, is to see the reaction of the people who see it. You get the satisfaction it's touching people's lives and changing people. People feel differently about the world after they see it. I guess it's a good news story that really touches people, and we're forever thankful we can play a small part in making that happen."

These days Elliott spends his time playing "a fair amount of golf" and volunteering in the community. He also travels to help spread the word about "Come From Away" in areas it plays. But don't expect to see him joining the cast up on the boards at any point.

"If I was to sing on stage," Elliott says with a laugh, "I would want to do the closing number so everybody could leave in a hurry. I have not been blessed with a voice to sing, that's for sure."

"Come From Away" runs Oct. 1-13 at the Fisher Theatre, 3011 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit. Tickets are $39 and up. Call 313-872-1000 or visit broadwayindetroit.com.

Web Site: www.broadwayindetroit.com

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