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Come From Away musical lands in Fort Worth with hometown talent
In March 2020, the national tour of Come From Away had just opened its run at the Music Hall at Fair Park as part of the Dallas Summer Musicals season.
The musical by Irene Sankoff and David Hein uses an ensemble cast to tell the stories of those whose planes were diverted to the tiny town of Gander, Newfoundland, on 9/11, and the residents who opened their homes and hearts to the 7,000 displaced passengers.
Almost overnight, performances ceased as the coronavirus became a global pandemic, shutting down not just theatrical shows but schools, jobs, and life as we knew it for at least the next 18 months.
"We went from this group in a theater talking about kindness and generosity and doing things together, to trying to be as separate as possible," says actor Chamblee Ferguson, who portrays the characters of Nick, Doug, and others. "But the optimist in me wants to glean what positive I can, so at least we were all in it together."
Ferguson, who spent 23 seasons as part of the Dallas Theater Center's Brierley Resident Acting Company before getting cast in this show, is one of two performers with Dallas-Fort Worth ties (Julie Johnson plays Beulah and others, and has herself been a frequent face in DTC productions).
Now the national tour of Come From Away is soaring again, having resumed performances in Memphis at the start of October and landing at Fort Worth's Bass Performance Hall, October 19-24.
"The word that comes to mind is healing," Ferguson says on a phone call from the show's stop in Tulsa. "Especially after all the trauma that we’ve gone through: to say these words, tell these stories, and sing these songs — it's emotional."
Ferguson says it was surreal to suddenly not be working for so long — something he says he's never experienced in his long and varied career — and that the cast was a bit apprehensive when they learned they would only have a week of rehearsals before reopening the show.
"We all went 'A week? How?'" he says. "But we underestimated how deeply embedded this story is in our bones."
One of the flights redirected to Gander on that fateful day was headed from Paris to Dallas-Fort Worth. It was piloted by Captain Beverley Bass, the first female captain of an American Airlines plane, and who happens to still be a resident of DFW.
Ferguson says that he and the cast have met not only Bass but the majority of the people who inspired the show's characters, several times.
"Nick and I text back and forth and send messages," he says, referring to the British man who ended up meeting his American wife, Diane, during the stopover in Gander. "He and Diane were in Memphis for the tour's opening, and my family and I were able to have breakfast and dinner with them."
Performing Arts Fort Worth is actually seeking passengers who were on AA flight 49, and is inviting them to tell their stories and attend the show and a VIP reception on opening night, October 19.
If that's you, contact the Consulate General of Canada by calling 214-922-9806, emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or via private message on Facebook.com/CanCGDallas or Twitter at @CanCGDallas.
Though Ferguson himself has not been able to visit Gander yet, he says the residents have made it very clear that the show's cast and crew are welcome anytime.
"They've said they want to open their homes, cook us meals, show us around," he says. "Yes, they're really just as warm and welcoming as they seem in the show!"
But in the meantime, Ferguson is excited to be back in Fort Worth (the show will visit Dallas Summer Musicals again March 8-20, 2022). The thing he's looking forward to the most?
"Besides visiting friends, I'm very excited to have some barbecue," he says.
Come From Awayruns at Bass Performance Hall October 19-24.