NEW YORK — Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — along with first daughter Ivanka Trump as a guest — welcomed a new musical that celebrates Canadian compassion and openness following the Sept. 11 attacks.
Trudeau and Trump and some 120 ambassadors from around the world attended the show "Come From Away" on Wednesday night at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, in one of the cities where the bulk of the 3,000 people on 9-11 died.
The musical is set in the small Newfoundland town of Gander, which opened its arms and homes to some 7,000 airline passengers diverted there when the U.S. government shut down its airspace. In a matter of a few hours, the town was overwhelmed by travellers from 38 planeloads and dozens of countries and religions, yet locals went to work in their kitchens and cleaned up spare rooms.
In remarks before the show, Trudeau got on the stage and said he was pleased that, "the world gets to see what it is to lean on each other and be there for each other through the darkest times."
The show got a standing ovation, including from Trump, who sat beside Trudeau and U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley. Also in attendance was Jean Chretien, a former Canadian prime minister. Trump was seen clapping along happily as the band played at the curtain call.
The actors did not acknowledge the special audience, but one afterward was still buzzing.
"When do we have the opportunity to share a story about kindness, gratitude and love that takes place in a country that is known for opening their hearts to people," said actor Rodney Hicks. "It just meant the world to all of us."
Trudeau, who champions global free trade and has welcomed 40,000 Syrian refugees, was celebrating Canada's 150th anniversary of its Confederation to reaffirm the special friendship between Canadians and Americans.
"Our friends are there for those tough times, when you lose a parent or a loved one, when you get knocked off your path at a difficult moment in your life. Where you go through difficult times, that's when you turn and you lean on your friends," he said. "That ultimately is what this story is all about — being there for each other."
In the show, a cast of a dozen play both residents and marooned passengers, telling true stories of generosity, compassion and acceptance, while fear and suspicion reigned in America. The show arrives just as a debate over immigration and open borders has reignited following the Trump administration's push for a ban on travellers from six predominantly Muslim nations.
Canadian husband-and-wife writing team Irene Sankoff and David Hein wrote the book, music and lyrics, and it was directed by Christopher Ashley, the artistic director of the La Jolla Playhouse. The musical veers its focus from weighty matters — a mother anxious about her missing firefighter son in New York to more silly events, like a rowdy evening at a local bar where visitors are urged to kiss a cod.
Trudeau's warm reception was in contrast to the ones that greeted two other world leaders who recently attended the Broadway smash "Hamilton" — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Vice-President-elect Mike Pence. Both received more than a smattering of boos.
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Mark Kennedy, The Associated Press