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The real-life pilot who inspired a Tony-nominated performance in 'Come From Away'

Actor Jenn Colella, left, and Beverley Bass, whom she portrays, pose for a photo following the benefit performance of Come From Away at the Steele Community Center Arena in Gander, Nfld., on October 29, 2016. Beverley Bass got an unexpected call the morning after "Come From Away" star Jenn Colella was nominated for the Tony Award for best featured actress in a musical. The true story of Bass, a trailblazing pilot portrayed by Colella, anchors the hit Broadway show about Newfoundland's kindness to stranded passengers and crew after 9/11.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Paul Daly
June 11, 2017 - 7:00 AM

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - Beverley Bass got an unexpected call the morning after "Come From Away" star Jenn Colella was nominated for the best featured actress in a musical Tony Award.

The true story of Bass, a trailblazing pilot who made history as the first female captain for American Airlines, anchors the hit Broadway show about Newfoundland's kindness to thousands of stranded passengers and crew after 9/11.

"I couldn't believe that she even thought to call me," Bass said in an interview.

"But she said: 'How could I not call you? Your childhood dreams have allowed me to live my childhood dream.' And for her, it was getting her first Tony Award nomination.

"We have such a strong friendship. It has just been a wonderful journey for both of us."

Bass was among the airline pilots ordered to divert to Gander, N.L., when the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 closed U.S. air space.

She is among several real people featured in "Come From Away" who have found it thrilling — but also surreal — to see their own stories played out on stage.

Bass gave a four-hour interview to playwrights Irene Sankoff and David Hein back in 2011 as they gathered stories that would form the book and lyrics for the musical, which is up for seven Tonys including best musical. Winners will be announced Sunday at Radio City Music Hall in New York.

Bass and her husband, Tom Stawicki, have seen the show 67 times. She laughed as she recalled seeing it for the first time as it opened in La Jolla, Calif.

"Me and the Sky" is a showstopper sung by Colella that recounts how Bass struggled and ultimately triumphed in the virtually all-male world of commercial flying.

"I was shocked at how prominent my part was. And I was astounded when I heard the song because if you were to read the transcript of my interview with David and Irene, they literally pulled paragraphs out verbatim and made the song."

Joel Hatch portrays Gander Mayor Claude Elliott and Appleton Mayor Derm Flynn and has had the chance to meet both of his real-life counterparts. He also recalled sitting in the living room of Beulah Cooper, who became friends with the unexpected guests she welcomed into her Gander home during five extraordinary days after 9/11.

"They're all heroes," said Hatch. "They're just saying they'd do what anyone else would do. But they're as great as you would hope for them to be, so it's a great honour to play them."

Bonnie Harris, the real-life SPCA manager in Gander, is another prominent "Come From Away" character. After security officials initially claimed there were no animals on the 38 diverted planes, she climbed through cargo holds where nine dogs, 10 cats and a pair of rare Bonobo apes had spent up to 48 hours in flight and on the tarmac.

Harris — portrayed by actress Petrina Bromley — and a local vet helped convince officials to allow the animals into a hangar where staff and volunteers cared for them over the next five days.

"I've never been more proud in my life to be a Newfoundlander until I'm on the stage in this show and hear people connect to the moments in a show that are islander moments," said Bromley.

— With files from Lauren La Rose.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2017
The Canadian Press

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