‘Come From Away’ focuses on kindness after 9/11

There are many tragic stories about what happened in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“Come From Away” tells a story of compassion and kindness.

Written by Irene Sankoff and David Hein, it’s based on the true story of 7,000 air passengers that day whose flights were re-routed to a small town in Newfoundland, where the Canadians welcomed them and took care of them, making it a tragedy that spawned enduring friendships.

The actors all play multiple characters in the musical, whose first national tour opens Tuesday at the Connor Palace for a three-week run.

Becky Gulsvig compared it to playing a team sport.

“I’ve never encountered a show that feels this way,” she said during a telephone interview from Miami. “We all function as a team, passing an imaginary ball back and forth. The shifts are rather delightful. It keeps it fun, keeps you on your toes. You take the story, step back and pass it to someone else. It’s a delightful way to tell this story about people coming together.”

Gulsvig’s primary character is Beverly Bass, who was one of the pilots that day and the first female captain with American Airlines, and she sings the goosebump inducing “Me and the Sky.” She got to meet Bass during rehearsals and hears from her on the road when she has friends coming to see the show, but her portrayal isn’t an impression of her.

“They were very welcoming of us bringing our own selves to the role,” she said. “They wanted it to come off very real, they don’t want any caricature or impersonation, they want people who embody the spirit of who they’re playing and trust that you’re in the right zone and make it your own a bit. I try to just honor her spirit. She’s a very strong lady.”

Gulsvig is no stranger to playing real-life figures. The last time she was in Cleveland, she was playing songwriter Cynthia Weil in “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.” Her Broadway credits include “Hairspray,” “School of Rock” and “Legally Blonde,” and she played the leading role of Elle Woods in the national tour for “Legally Blonde.”

She is joined in the cast by several Broadway veterans, including Kevin Carolan (“Newsies”), Harter Clingman (“Peter and the Starcatcher”), Nick Duckart (“In the Heights”) and James Earl Jones II (“Porgy and Bess”).

Despite receiving seven Tony Award nominations (and winning for best director with Christopher Ashley also directing the tour), “Come From Away” isn’t as well-known as some of the other shows on the road, and isn’t based on a hit movie to lure an audience that already knows what to expect. However, that fact that it’s approaching its 1,000th performance on Broadway indicates it clearly has found an audience.

“What’s fascinating about this show is the word of mouth,” Gulsvig said. “Instead of something that’s overhyped, it has this huge heart that reaches out and just finds people. It’s an amazing, old-school way to hear about it — people actually talking about it.”