'Come From Away' creators come 'full circle' with one-night concert

TORONTO — During the original run of "My Mother's Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding," creators David Hein and Irene Sankoff extended a longshot invite to talk show host and LGBTQ trailblazer Ellen DeGeneres.

They didn't hear back.

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A decade later, the couple also behind the Broadway smash "Come From Away" is collaborating with DeGeneres to develop a TV show. The series, titled "How To Get Run Over By A Truck," is inspired by a memoir written by Katie McKenna, who at age 24 was hit by a massive semi while riding her bike in Brooklyn.

It's just one example of how much has changed since Hein and Sankoff made a splash in Toronto's indie theatre scene with a musical memoir about a young man coming of age as his mother comes out of the closet.

Now, the playwrights are returning to the show that started it all for a one-night revival of "My Mother's Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding" at Toronto's Royal Alexandra Theatre on Tuesday.

"We've been given the opportunity to do some good with this show," Hein said in a recent phone interview with Sankoff from New York.

"To get to do it while celebrating our career (over the past) 10 years and to say thank you to the Toronto theatre community... feels so full circle."

The concert, which will raise funds for Planned Parenthood Toronto, reunites much of original cast for a pared-down performance on the same stage as "Come From Away."

Hein and Sankoff have updated the script with new songs and material to make it more relevant for today's audience.

The quirky family comedy is inspired by Hein's own lesbian, Jewish mother's wedding to a Wiccan woman.

He says it was the most beautiful ceremony he'd ever seen: In keeping with Jewish tradition, his mother and her bride stood beneath a chuppah and smashed a glass to pieces. Then they jumped over a broom and flaming pot.

As a sort of wedding gift, Hein wrote a song to celebrate their union and its associated adjectives.

Juggling day jobs to support their artistic ambitions, Hein and Sankoff expanded "My Mother's Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding" into a full-fledged musical, which was mounted at 2009's Toronto Fringe Festival.

The show premiered at an 80-seat theatre in the backroom of a bar in Toronto's bohemian Kensington Market, and buzz about the offbeat play soon overwhelmed its modest venue.

As tickets sold out, Hein said special arrangements had to be made to secure seats for Toronto theatre impresario David Mirvish.

Mirvish loved it so much he brought the show to what's now known as the CAA Theatre, where the show packed the 700-seat venue during an 11-week run.

The production's North American tour took the husband-and-wife duo to New York, where they connected with the Broadway producers who would eventually back from "Come From Away."

The musical is inspired by the real-life hospitality of Newfoundlanders in the small town of Gander who provided refuge to thousands of travellers whose flights were diverted in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Since its New York premiere in 2017, the show has racked up scores of awards including a Tony, and been staged across the globe.

Hein credits the show's success to the sense of "possibility" that courses through the couple's work — their belief that with a little bit of kindness and the right attitude, people can come together to conquer adversity.

"With 'Come From Away,' the contrast of humanity is what makes the light that much more brilliant," said Sankoff. "I think with 'My Mother's Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding,' as well, the love shines so brightly through."

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