Addison Garner has had a busy couple of years.
Coming out of the pandemic in 2021, she landed the plum role of Velma Von Tussle in the national tour of the musical “Hairspray,” which she performed in until earlier this year.
Now, she’s back on stage in another big show, starring in the national tour of the musical “Come From Away,” the surprisingly uplifting musical about the aftermath of 9/11. It makes a stop in Huntsville this weekend with performances Friday through Sunday, opening the Broadway Theatre League’s 2023-2024 season.
The musical, based on real-life events, tells the story of air passengers diverted to Gander, Newfoundland, when air traffic was stopped. And though “Come From Away” boasts an ensemble cast, each person playing multiple roles, Garner’s roles include one of the musical’s most memorable – airline Capt. Beverley Bass.
Before performing in front of a home-state crowd in Huntsville, Garner took the time to answer some questions about “Come From Away.”
Can you share with us what your journey has been with “Come From Away,” from the first time you heard about the show until now that you’re out on tour with it?
I first saw “Come From Away” in 2017 when it opened on Broadway. I didn’t know much about it other than it was about 9/11. I remember buying a standing-room-only ticket and had no idea what I was stepping into. I didn’t know the show would have such a profound impact on me. I thought it was absolutely fabulous, but honestly never thought I would ever have the opportunity to be in it, much less follow in Jenn Colella’s footsteps (Editor’s note: Colella won a Tony nomination for portraying Bass in “Come From Away”). To be here on this journey, telling this incredible story, in big cities, small cities and everything in between, I feel so, so very lucky.
How did the “Come From Away” tour come your way? How was the audition process?
I was on the national tour of “Hairspray,” and as dear to my heart as that show is to me, I knew my time with that show would soon be coming to a close and needed to start auditioning for my next job – the typical life of an actor, always looking for the next gig! Much like every other female-presenting actor, when these auditions came to be last spring, I immediately had my agent submit me for it. I even remember him saying, “You know they’re seeing all types of people for this role,” which, in other words, means, “Don’t get your hopes up!” But then I started receiving callbacks and it became more real and attainable. I had Zoom callbacks during the day, then I’d do “Hairspray” performances at night. It was wild! I officially got the call last April (the day before my birthday!), and my agent said, “I have some sad news. You’re going to have to leave ‘Hairspray’ because you’re going to fly planes, Beverley Bass.’ I was over the moon. My friends were sitting there with bated breath as I received the call, and getting to celebrate with some of my favorite humans is something I will always treasure.
How familiar were you with the show? Have you seen it prior to auditioning?
Ever since seeing it on Broadway, it had always been one of my favorite musicals, and when (it) came out on Apple TV, my family and I watched it regularly. I would often sing “Me and the Sky” in the car but never once thought that I’d have the opportunity to sing it live every night.
Did you research Beverley Bass, and have you met her? How much pressure do you feel playing a real person on stage?
I haven’t met her, yet, but I am hopeful she will come to one of our shows sometime soon. I have watched countless interviews with her, as well as several documentaries, and I even read her children’s book. What makes Beverley different from Velma Von Tussle is that I’m portraying a real person, with a real story, and it’s made this role even more special to take on. From being the first female captain, to landing in Gander during a national emergency, to when she mentions seeing her husband, Tom, for the first time, these emotions are hard and real and it’s been the most challenging, but rewarding, acting perspective I think I have ever experienced.
How difficult is to play multiple characters? Does that make the show more exciting for you? Scarier for you? All of the above?
I think during the rehearsal process, I would’ve said all of the above. This show is like a train – once you get on, there’s no stopping! But now that I feel more comfortable in the material, playing different roles with different accents keeps the show exciting and something to always work on. It definitely keeps me on my toes.
How have audiences been in the first weeks of the tour? Are they responding to the show?
They absolutely love it. People that came on a Friday night have even come back for the Sunday night shows. They can’t get enough and I think people leave feeling uplifted and their hope restored.
It’s not what people might expect from a 9/11 musical, right?
I do think when people hear that it’s a show about 9/11, they’re very hesitant to attend. However, I promise you will leave with a smile on your face and be reminded that there is goodness in humankind. It’s not a big flashy musical, but the simplicity of the story is what makes it so beautiful and special. It’s a story of hope.
Do you have a favorite moment in the show?
My favorite moment in the show is the song “Somewhere in the Middle of Nowhere.” It takes place toward the end of the show, when we’re on the plane after we’ve finally been given clearance to fly back to the USA. The message is simple, but we all sing/talk about how special being in Gander had been and also anxiously await seeing loved ones back home. But what makes this show so unique is that it truly is an ensemble show. We couldn’t do it without every single person telling his or her story. We even all bow together as a company at the end. We’re a family. And that’s why I love it so very much.
You’ve been on the road for a while now and will continue to be. Is it exhausting, or do you have time to experience some of the cities you’re visiting?
Road life can be hard and definitely has its ups and downs. But I love the travel aspect of tour and getting to visit new cities or revisit some old favorites. I like to go on runs to really take in the scenery and I love visiting local coffee shops and boutiques. You learn to get creative with food in a hotel room (I even travel with a mini air fryer!) and adopt the mentality that less is always more.
What do you plan to do while you’re in Huntsville?
My whole family will be in the audience as well as several friends. I am beyond excited to be bringing this show to my home state and show my cast members some true southern hospitality. I wish we were there for longer, but I’ll take as much fam time as I can get!
“Come From Away,” presented by the Broadway Theatre League of Huntsville Friday through Sunday.