A Newfoundlander on Broadway, Petrina Bromley reflects on the roller-coaster ride in the form of the Tony winning musical Come From Away
Herald readers do not need to be reminded of Petrina Bromley’s remarkable path to Broadway.
A well-liked and respected stalwart of Newfoundland and Labrador’s theatre scene, Bromley was quite content with the idea that gracing the stages of Broadway was but a pipe-dream at that particular point in her career.
“It’s not the trajectory I was on,” Bromley says amidst sips of coffee during a rare week off in St. John’s.
‘A Broadway Smash’
But here she is. Petrina Bromley, of St. John’s, Newfoundland, a featured player for the Tony-nominated, critical darling Broadway musical Come From Away, a production that has become unofficially adopted by we the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.
And as has been well illustrated many times in recent months, Come From Away has had its fair share of obstacles and potential strikes working against it. The fact that, against even the most reserved judgements, it has achieved and thrived to the level it has is nothing short of miraculous.
“Heading down there, none of us were sure what would happen,” Bromley says. “When they wrote the show they didn’t write it thinking this is going to Broadway and will be a Broadway smash. Not even just going to Broadway. They were thinking, this will be great, high schools in Canada will do this play for the rest of our lives and we’ll have a play happening all the time! Fantastic! And then it went on the crazy ride it went on and it is where it is now.”
A Remarkable Story
Perhaps it shouldn’t be such a shock that a remarkable story of kindness and the human spirit has been met with universal adoration and critical praise. Heck, the cast was featured prominently at the Tony Awards, which just so happen to be the end-all-be-all when it comes to theatre accolades. Did you see the Come From Away cast joining the Rockette kick-line?
“It was incredibly amazing,” Bromley says of the Tonys experience. “We didn’t know too far in advance we’d be performing. Only a couple of days or the week leading up to the Tonys we found out we would be a part of the opening number and would be becoming Rockettes for 45 seconds of our lives, which was incredible and ridiculous and amazing. For me – personally – I almost had to put it away and not think about it too much.”
And so it goes that the success of a production with splendid writing, top notch performers and a world-class crew reaches the heights it so deserves.
It does so with a relatable story, grounded in reality, that is as pertinent today as any artistic endeavour one could dream up.
“I think the great thing about the show is it’s always grounded in that reality,” Bromley says. “It’s never about what we are able to do, it’s about what those people did on both sides of it. I keep saying it could have gone horribly bad. When you have enough people come in to a town to double the size of your town and if they’re angry and fed up they could just riot and take over. Because everyone was gracious on both sides it went spectacularly well. I think about that all the time and I’m constantly reminded that it’s not about me at all.
Small Town Story
“In a lot of ways it’s about everyone who perished on that day,” she adds reflectively. “There’s a line in the show from this character of Diane who finds a love in the show where she says the only reason we met was because this terrible thing happened. Every time I hear that in the show I’m reminded that the only reason I’m on Broadway today is because a very terrible thing happened. The only reason I’m on Broadway is because of this show and the only reason I’m on this show is because I happened to be a Newfoundlander who at the right point and time met someone. They saw me in a show and I was recommended. It’s a very small town kind of story.”
Bromley notes that, in a day and age where good news is hard to come by, a story of acceptance, of selflessness, seems to be just what the doctor ordered.
“It’s a very basic story of humanity that I think resonates with everybody,” she says. “If you’ve ever been someone who’s been displaced in any way, shape or form – even if it’s your car stuck on the side of the road, your cell phone is dead or you have no coverage – and someone stops and does something good. As small scale as that is to this big giant thing of a large group of people opening their hearts and their homes to another large group of people and saying “no, we’ll make it work,” instead of fighting about things and pointing out what makes us different and why we shouldn’t get along.
“They just said no, we can get along and we can make this work. We have to, it’s the right thing to do and it’s the only thing to do so we’re going to do that. I think because we see so much of the opposite of that in the world, especially now where social media carries everything immediately and every ding-dong who has an opinion is the first one to post it, and there’s so much negativity all over the place for everything that happens. It’s just so refreshing to be reaffirmed that, at our core, people are good. We let a lot of other things get in the way, a lot of other people’s opinions get in the way, but in the end we all want to believe that when the chips are down we would be a good person and help someone; or if we needed it somebody would help us.”
Of course, we Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have accepted Come From Away unlike no one else. A story deeply rooted in Newfoundland hospitality, and indeed in our newfound history, it also shed a light on a people that have been past vilified and misunderstood.
“It is that Newfoundland story. There was a time not too long ago that Newfoundland being mentioned anywhere would be a punchline or something negative like the seal hunt,” Bromley says.
“There are negative stereotypes and images out there about us that are based on a lack of knowledge on other people’s parts and their lack of knowledge on us and this story talks about us as normal people who would do what normal people would do, help someone. Everybody I know who has come to see it that are from Newfoundland have said they have never felt more proud to be a Newfoundlander in their life, which almost brings me to tears every time I hear it.”
And for Bromley? Being a part of something as profound as Come From Away just might be the pinnacle of a career worth of taking chances and tireless efforts. But could an artist ask for any more than to be a part of something quite so emotionally profound to such a wide berth of people?
Sense of Healing
“It seems to me that this is kind of the pinnacle of what I will ever do in my career. Hopefully, I might live to go on to do other things, but I don’t think anything will be this important as what I feel like I’m doing right now.
“Newfoundlanders and Canadians say it makes them proud and people in the United States saying it brings them hope and brings them joy and for some people who have first hand 9/11 losses or experiences will tell you it gives them a sense of healing. To be told that by strangers is so beautiful. It’s the one thing we all wish and hope, that our art will do is speak to people and this really seems to be speaking to people. I could be hit by a bus now and I’d be fine.”