Come from Away

Chamblee Ferguson and Christine Toy Johnson, center, are Nick and Diane in 'Come from Away,' at the Saenger May 28-June 2.

Nick and Diane Marson aren’t your typical Broadway superfans. Sure, the retired couple from Houston, Texas has seen the 2017 Tony-winning musical “Come From Away” nearly 100 times, but there’s a reason for that: The show is based, at least partly, on their life.

“We never dreamt any of this would have happened,” said Nick. “It’s something that happens in the movies — it doesn’t happen to real people.”

So how did it happen to them? It took a stroke of love and luck in the midst of a harrowing tragedy.

“Come From Away” (May 28-June 2 at the Saenger Theatre) tells the story of a group of airline passengers who were in the skies on Sept. 11, 2001. After the terrorist attacks, planes were diverted from their destinations as a precautionary measure, and Nick and Diane--she was flying home after visiting a son stationed in England; he was headed from London to Texas for work — found themselves stranded in the tiny town of Gander, Newfoundland, along with over 6,000 other passengers and crew from 38 planes.

Over the next few days, as the townspeople banded together to care for their unexpected guests and the passengers attempted to make sense of the frightening situation, Nick and Diane began to bond, eventually sharing a kiss on their last day together — and then getting married almost exactly one year later.

Of that first kiss, Nick, a typically reserved Brit, explained, “I put my arm around her, and I was going to kiss her on the forehead,” as a comforting gesture in a trying time.

“I just grabbed him and kissed him on the lips,” recalled Diane with a big Texas laugh.

The couple returned to the small Newfoundland town for their honeymoon, then returned again in 2011, along with many of the other passengers from those fateful days, to reunite with old friends on the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

Also in attendance for that commemoration were Irene Sankoff and David Hein, a writing team that set about interviewing passengers and townspeople about their experiences, gathering stories for the show that evolved into “Come From Away,” written by Sankoff and Hein and directed by Christopher Ashley, who snagged a Tony for his work.

In addition to Nick and Diane, the show highlights the stories of airline pilot Beverly Bass, Gander mayor Claude Elliott, and many other real-life characters.

“We cannot say enough about the kindness of the Newfoundlanders,” said Diane, calling their generosity an act of “human kindness in the light of worldwide evil.”

“There were people from over 100 countries who had landed in the surrounding area,” she said, “and they took care of everybody, no matter who they were.”

Despite their own happy ending, Nick admits it took some time to warm up to the idea of sharing their story after the tragedy that had impacted so many others.

“Why should we be so blessed in the wake of such a disaster?” he wondered. “It didn’t seem right or fair.”

But having now seen the show so many times— often accompanied by other passengers and Ganderites — and seeing the joy it brings to audiences, the couple cherishes the experience, often staying long after the performance has ended to talk with theater-goers about their own 9/11 experience or that unexpected moment when they met a special person in their life.

“It’s like a big family reunion when we all get together,” said Diane, and she’s looking forward to reuniting again in New Orleans, where she and Nick will see the show for the 100th time.

Nick insists that it never gets old.

“Every time we see the show,” he said “it’s like we’re renewing our vows all over again.”

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"Come From Away"

WHEN: May 28-June 2

WHERE: Saenger Theatre, 1111 Canal Street

TICKETS: $30 and up

INFO: www.BroadwayInNewOrleans.com or (800) 982-2787