Local actors embrace 'amazing' message of Tony-winning 'Come From Away'
Chicago actors James Earl Jones II and Harter Clingman were never cast in the same show in the many years they've worked in the local theater scene. That changed with the national tour of "Come From Away."
The hit 2017 Tony Award-winning musical makes its Chicago debut at the Cadillac Palace Theatre next week, and both Jones and Clingman can't wait to share "Come From Away" with a hometown crowd.
"'Come from Away' is honestly my favorite show to perform," Jones said. "And it's the first show that I've ever been able to perform where I am telling an amazing message of kindness and love and joy and selflessness."
"Come From Away" is inspired by true stories of more than 6,500 airline passengers and crew who were diverted to a tiny Canadian town and grounded in response to the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Gander in Newfoundland only had a population of 10,000 people, so the entire community opened up their homes and hearts to an influx of strangers over the course of five days.
Transforming personal stories into a musical was a monumental task for authors David Hein and Irene Sankoff. Yet they found a way by condensing or combining stories and people into a 100-minute musical with a cast of just 12.
Jones plays a number of different characters including Bob, who is based upon New Jersey resident Tom McKeon.
"Bob is very uncomfortable about being in this place," Jones said. "(Bob doesn't) quite understand how someone can be giving and kind with no ulterior motive. But over the course of his time in Gander, he really comes to understand who these people are, and more importantly, can take that message back with him."
"As far as involving the real people, it's amazing," said Clingman, who plays up to 15 different roles including "Oz Fudge." He was only one of two police officers in Gander at the time, and is now retired and sits on the city council.
"He is very real and he checks up on me from time to time via Facebook messenger to see how I'm doing and ask how people are responding to the tour," Clingman said. "I feel like he's an uncle or a father figure at this point."
Both Clingman and Jones have been impressed with how the producers of "Come From Away" keep many Gander residents in touch with the musical's five companies on Broadway, in Toronto, in London, in Australia and on tour. For the tour's official October 2018 launch in Seattle and in Los Angeles, some Gander residents were flown out and invited onstage to take a bow at the opening-night curtain call.
"I was invited as an extended member of their family a year ago," Clingman said. "They're really lovely and they're all a part of spreading this word of kindness and compassion and human decency."
Jones was even inspired to take his one-week vacation in Gander just to inform his performance and to soak in the place. He was picked up at the airport by Oz Fudge and then stayed in the spare room of Gander resident Beulah Cooper, who is also depicted in the musical.
"I don't know that I will ever meet an entire group of people as open and as wonderful as the 'Come From Away' community," Jones said. "It's a bigger thing, it's a bigger family."
Clingman and Jones are excited about introducing "Come From Away" to Chicago for the first time.
"It's the anticipation of bringing a show that is so ensemble-based to a town that celebrates that kind of storytelling," Clingman said. "I take such pride being a member of the Chicago community and this story is just something that they're going to eat up."
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"Come From Away"
Location: Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St., Chicago, (800) 775-2000 or broadwayinchicago.com
Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday (also Sunday, Aug. 4); 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday (also Wednesday, Aug. 7 and 14); July 30 through Aug. 18.