Alternative First Lady Ivanka Trump, daughter of the President and frequent stand-in for her step-mother, joined Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at Wednesday night’s performance of the Broadway musical Come From Away. The liberal-leaning, refugee-welcoming Canadian head of state led a contingent of 500 booked by the Canadian consulate into the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, where the 9/11-themed musical opened Sunday. Trudeau was accompanied by his wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau. Dignitaries in the crowd included Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and former P.M. Jean Chrétien and his wife, Aline, along with U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley.
Created by the husband-and-wife team of Irene Sankoff and David Hein, Come From Away tells the story of the 6,579 passengers and crew, on 38 airliners, who were diverted to the Newfoundland town of Gander when the airspace over the U.S. was closed following the terrorist attacks. The airport had long-since outlived its purpose as a refueling station for trans-Atlantic flights. But the citizens of Gander and nearby towns opened their homes to the unexpected guests, providing shelter, food, medical supplies and what comfort they could. The show, using the Celtic-inspired music from the region, was built around interviews with the residents and guests, including one Muslim passenger who at first arouses the suspicions of his fellow travelers before finding acceptance in the group.
A prolonged standing ovation greeted Trudeau, according to one backstage witness, as he took the stage and addressed the crowd before the show got underway. Of course, he started with the weather: “Thank you for making us feel so welcome with the snow,” Trudeau said, to laughter. “It’s a nice touch. You really went out of your way.” The irony of the occasion apparently was not lost on the partisan crowd, with the curtain going up just hours after a federal judge in Hawaii blocked the latest executive order from the White House suspending visas for people from six majority Muslim nations. The ban was to have taken effect at midnight.
Chrétien – Canada’s P.M. when Al Qaeda operatives attacked the Twin Towers in New York City and the Pentagon in Wasiongton on September 11, 2001– shared some memories about the events that inspired the story, according to the Toronto Star. He and the minister of transportation were made aware of residents of Gander taking in thousands of passengers. He recalled speaking with then-president George W. Bush about Canada’s role in assisting its crisis-stricken neighbor. “We were involved in many things,” Chrétien said as he walked into the theater. “It was quite a day.”