“Come From Away” Brings Local Actors Home

Come From Away brings local actors home
Photo by Matthew Murphy

“Come From Away” brings two of Dallas’s favorite actors home with the national tour, presented by DSM through March 20. Julie Johnson (Beulah) and Chamblee Ferguson (Nick) are featured in the 12-member cast, each taking on several roles.

The inspirational Broadway hit is based on a true story, when flight cancellations forced 42 planes (38 commercial and 4 military flights) to land in tiny Gander, Newfoundland on 9/11. With more than 6,500 passengers and crew members stranded there for days, the warmhearted townspeople welcomed them into their care. Schools, recreation centers and even a hockey rink became home away from home for these international travelers, some of them speaking different languages.

‘Resonates more deeply than we could have ever imagined’

Ken Novice, President & CEO of Dallas Summer Musicals, noted “this engagement of ‘Come From Away’ is particularly meaningful…the show was on the Music Hall stage exactly 24 months ago when the world shut down due to Covid-19. After only 3 performances, we packed the show back on its trucks, put the band’s musical instruments into storage, and sent the company home to quarantine. Now, in a triumphant return, ‘Come From Away’ resonates more deeply than we could have ever imagined.”

One of the main characters in “Come From Away” is based on real-life AA pilot Beverly Bass, who’s also from Dallas. The musicals’ book, music and lyrics are by Irene Sankoff and David Hein, a married couple. The multi-award winning show is directed by Christopher Ashley, with music supervision by Ian Eisendrath and musical staging by Kelly Devine.

“Come From Away” returned to the Music Hall at Fair Park on March 8, two years after being closed by the pandemic. To mark their return, the cast brought all the crew members who worked on the show to share their curtain call.

Addressing the audience, Julie said, “From the time I was three years old, I sat in one of those chairs where you’re sitting, and watched Dallas Summer Musicals’ shows with my parents. That’s when I knew this is what I was going to do someday.”

Come from Away brings back local actors
Come From Away cast-Julie Johnson 2nd from right photo by Matthew Murphy

Julie Johnson and her husband John still live in Whitewright, a small town in Grayson County, “in the house where I grew up,” she said. “So when the show shut down two years ago, everybody else had to travel a long distance home, while I just jumped in my car and drove 60 miles north to reach mine.”

Come From Away Company

Members of the touring company have formed an extremely close bond with each other, including the talented musicians who travel with the company, Julie said. The fishermen who settled Newfoundland came from Ireland, and the lively Irish music played throughout the show sets the tone for the musical. Julie said the band features authentic Irish instruments, and Isaac Alderson (whistles/Irish flute/Uilleann pipes) has 20+ Irish whistles.

Julie has been with the touring company since 2018, and has been able to meet several of the real-life people. One of the show’s most emotional connections is between Beulah (Julie Johnson) and Hannah (Danielle K. Thomas), the NYC mother of a missing firefighter.

“Hannah is for real too, a cute little Irish woman, we met her and several others after our performance in Seattle in 2021,” Julie said. “All those stories are true, including the couple who fell in love, they went back to Canada for the 10 year reunion. So did the AA pilot Beverly Bass, who still lives in Dallas.”

Kind-hearted Newfoundlanders

The people of Gander and other small towns in Newfoundland are just as “humble, kind, and unselfish as they’re portrayed in the show,” Julie said. “Nothing ruffles them, you can’t make them mad…they don’t allow themselves to get angry. They have a beautiful attitude about life.”

While there’s no theatre venue in Gander, the Broadway cast of “Come From Away” performed a concert version of the musical in their hockey rink, Julie said, and received a wildly enthusiastic response.

“The Canadians laughed at things we didn’t even know were funny,” Julie said. “It’s important to make people laugh, especially when times are tough. Something we’ve known since Shakespeare’s day.”

Come From Away Cast

The national touring company features Marika Aubrey (Beverley and others), Kevin Carolan (Mayor Claude and others), Harter Clingman (Oz and others), and Nick Duckart (Kevin J. and others). Chamblee Ferguson (Nick and others) and Julie Johnson (Beulah and others) are both well-loved Dallas actors with numerous local and regional credits here. Christine Toy Johnson (Diane and others), James Earl Jones II (Bob and others), Julia Knitel (Janice and others), Sharone Sayegh (Bonnie and others), Danielle K. Thomas (Hannah and others), and Jeremy Woodard (Kevin T. and others) are also in the cast.

Come From Away
Nick (Chamblee Ferguson) kisses Diane photo by Matthew Murphy

“Come From Away” will make you laugh, but may also make you cry. If you’re like me, you’ll leave the Music Hall longing to visit Gander yourself, and meet those kindhearted people. The DSM presentation is onstage at the Music Hall through March 20, and you should go see it there. You’ll rejoice in the music and be touched by the human connections formed by the Plane People and the small-town Newfoundlanders during the tragic events of 9/11.

Be sure to arrive early enough to view the lobby exhibit of 9/11 memorabilia on loan from the George W. Bush Museum in Dallas, including a photo montage of the NYC firefighters killed that day. “Come From Away” is performed without an intermission.