During the 9/11 disaster, Austinite Kevin Tuerff and his ex-partner, Kevin Jung, were flying from Paris to Austin via New York City.
Along with dozens of others, his plane was rerouted to Gander, Newfoundland, in Canada. There, the local community of 9,000 rallied to feed, house and sustain the 7,000 stranded passengers and crews for five days.
In 2016, the Gander 9/11 experience became the subject of an uplifting Broadway musical, "Come From Away," which plays Feb. 18-23 at Bass Concert Hall.
Tuerff turned into Kevin T, a character in the musical. His ex-partner, Jung, becomes Kevin J.
Tuerff followed the show‘s various incarnations, including a very special performance in tiny Gander.
Around that time, Tuerff retired from his environmental public relations business, which he had co-founded. He became more involved in his Pay It Forward 9/11 foundation, which encourages random acts of kindness, and he wrote a book about his experiences, "Channel of Peace: Stranded in Gander on 9/11."
Recently, I followed up on my 2016 interview with Tuerff at a local coffee shop.
American-Statesman: So what’s the latest with you?
Kevin Tuerff: Still living in New York City, actually in the Ground Zero neighborhood. I miss Austin on occasion. Right now I’m expanding my public speaking career. In November, I did my first TEDx talk in Ontario. Now I’ve been hired as a keynote speaker at an international conference. Also, I’m organizing a tour of Newfoundland for the week of Sept. 6-12 for fans of the musical. I will take them to the places and help them meet the people who are part of the story.
Now that "Come From Away" is on the road — and is still playing in New York to sell-out houses — what has happened to Kevin T?
I used to have one doppelganger. Now I have five.
The differences are not that significant. One of them is bald and one of them has a beard. But they are all remarkably talented actors, singers and dancers. Andrew Samonsky, previously known as the sexy guy in "Bridges of Madison County," will play me in Austin.
Did you expect the show to have such a broad appeal?
No. The first time I saw the show, it was a college production more than six years ago. I cried through the whole thing. I thought it was great. I thought it was accurate.
I also thought it had no chance to run on Broadway because only Disney movies seem to run on Broadway. Recently, I got a free trip to London’s West End and Melbourne, Australia, for the opening of U.K. and Australian productions. In these other countries, the actors warned us before the opening, audiences might not give it a standing ovation, as they do after every performance in North America. But they do. It gets a standing ovation in every country for every show.
This is a weird question, but has the partly fictionalized musical changed your sense of what happened on 9/11?
No. In fact, now, living in New York City, and getting to meet people who are survivors of the World Trade Center or people who had family who died, it has not been lost on me the tremendous difference between what they experienced and what me and my boyfriend experienced that same day.
One of my friends is considered a 9/11 survivor and she has seen "Come From Away" more than 20 times. She says it doesn’t change anything about the horror of that day. But knowing this story of the better side of humanity — it opens up space for healing.
You are hosting something like 100 friends and family for the Feb. 19 performance here in Austin.
Yes, my ex-partner, Kevin Jung — there’s a line in the show, "We’re both named Kevin. It was cute for a while" — and I will participate in a question-and-answer session with actors from the show that night. That’s the night to be there. There are not many seats left.
I don’t always watch it because I’ve seen it 53 times.