Eastern Iowa native performs in 9/11's 'Come from Away' Tuesday to Feb. 2 in Des Moines

Harter Clingman (front row, right), who grew up in Cedar Rapids and Ottumwa, is performing on the first national tour of
Harter Clingman (front row, right), who grew up in Cedar Rapids and Ottumwa, is performing on the first national tour of “Come from Away.” The Tony-winning musical captures the joy that emerged from the darkness when 7,000 airline passengers were diverted to a small town in Newfoundland after the terrorist attacks in the United States on Sept. 11, 2001. The show is coming to the Des Moines Civic Center stage Tuesday (1/28) to Feb. 2. (Matthew Murphy photos)

Newfoundland became a new-found land when nearly 7,000 airline passengers and crew were diverted to the Canadian island on Sept. 11, 2001. The residents of tiny Gander opened their homes and hearts to the stranded, bewildered travelers, and that light emerging from utter darkness has been captured in “Come from Away.”

Harter Clingman, who moved from Cedar Rapids to Ottumwa at age 7, is part of the first national tour of the 2017 Tony-winning Broadway musical coming to the Des Moines Civic Center from Tuesday (1/28) to Feb. 2.

He said he’s “flabbergasted” to know between 200 and 300 Eastern Iowa family and friends are coming to the show, including his parents, Jim and Judy Clingman of Ottumwa.

9/11 memories

Now 30 and based in Chicago, he was in his seventh grade social studies class in Ottumwa when the terrorist attacks hit the World Trade Center in New York; the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.; and a field in Shanksville, Pa., after passengers on that ill-fated flight overpowered the hijackers.

That date is seared in his memory.

“I was stunned and glued to the television. I’ll never forget watching the second tower being hit and the towers fall, live on TV,” he said by phone from a Washington, D.C., tour stop. “Word spread throughout all of the faculty and they didn’t know what else to do but turn the television on and be informed. That meant that all of us students were also privy to it.”

His mother, who was a special needs educator in his middle school, immediately called him to her room, and he watched the news unfold there.

And even though the musical will strike a chord with all who remember the horror of that day and those that followed, the stage version, based on facts, finds the warmth in the embrace for passengers and crew from 38 civilian and four military planes sent to this spot.

Once an important refueling stop for transatlantic flights, Gander International Airport continues to be a beacon for flights experiencing medical or security emergencies. The town grew around an airport built there in 1935, and during World War II, Gander became a strategic landing site and home to 10,000 British, Canadian and American military personnel.

Uplifting air

Clingman saw the show before being cast, so he knew its overall tone is uplifting. He and his fiancee, also an actor, attended a 2016 pre-Broadway matinee in Washington, D.C., when visiting her cousins during a road trip.


“We thought to ourselves, ‘What could this possibly be about — this musical about 9/11?’ We were a bit skeptical here, but we were excited, nonetheless. And 5 minutes in, we were blown away. We were complete, utter snotty wrecks,” he said.

“We were floored by how uplifting and touching the story was, and how it didn’t necessarily dwell on the events of 9/11. That ultimately, this story is about 9/12 — the response to the tragedy. And how on the northeast tip of North America, in Newfoundland, there were these people who took in nearly the size of their own population and fed and clothed and entertained them — people from all over the world — for five days afterwards.”

The music, he said, is “exciting,” with “a rollicking Gaelic rock score” reflecting roots in the east Atlantic, Ireland, Spain and the British Isles.

“Being performers, both of us, we actually made a deal with each other that if we ever found ourselves cast, or if the opportunity came along to be part of the journey of ‘Come from Away,’ we’d support each other in that. And now here we are.”

They’re on the road again with their dog packed into an SUV, so they can sightsee and hike along the way.

Even though his fiancee isn’t onstage, he described her as “an integral part of our company, given that our company consists of a lot of families and dogs and kids. We all embrace each other with open arms and support each other as one large family.”

Just like in the show itself.

Like all of the cast members, Clingman plays many roles, but chief among them is Oz Fudge, one of two police officers in Gander at the time. Fudge is a real person, who was a key part of the response to the city’s 9/11 response.

“He is very much a living, breathing, kind, funny, generous human being, and the privilege of a lifetime, truly, is just knowing him,” Clingman said.


“He and I talk on a pretty regular basis. He checks in on me like he’s an uncle. Our producers often bring our actual counterparts out to visit us and we’ve had the privilege of taking a bow with them in a couple of different cities.

“Getting that perspective is really unique. I doubt that in the course of my career, I’ll ever get to say I’ve played somebody that I knew, again.”

While producers wanted the actors to find their own interpretation of the characters, sitting down for a beer and talking about what Fudge experienced on the job has proved invaluable for the young actor.

“Hearing many of his stories, and how it’s brought him to serve as a local council member and now a retired police officer, it’s been pretty great in terms of enriching my performance,” Clingman said.

Audience reaction

From the beginning narration, audience members find out they will be thrust “directly into the lives of these humans,” Clingman said. “(It’s) a welcome to the place that they come from. And that sets the scene ultimately that strangers, like people in the audience, are going to be taken on a journey and taken care of.”

What follows are moments of turbulence and joy.

“The show is fast-paced and built much like a roller coaster,” Clingman said, “in terms taking you on exciting journeys between joyous moments and moments of grief, moments of knocking back a few drinks, down to moments of terror and fear — and then back again to a joke or two. It doesn’t dwell in one moment too long, but it lives most in the uplifting moments.

“The audience isn’t let off the hook until the very end of the show, and so we often find there’s this visceral need to leap from their seats and express gratitude for the experience that they had,” he said.

“It’s amazing to me to be on the receiving end of that every single show. The thing I have to remember is that yes, the physical performance is impressive on our part, but it’s the story that ultimately touches people in a tangible way.”

Comments: (319) 368-8508; diana.nollen@thegazette.com


• What: First national tour of “Come from Away”

• Where: Des Moines Civic Center, 221 Walnut St., Des Moines


• When: Tuesday (1/28) to Feb. 2; 7:30 p.m. Jan. 28 to 31, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Feb. 1, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Feb. 2

• Tickets: $40 to $195, $26 student rush; venue box office, (515) 246-2300 or desmoinesperformingarts.org

• Run time: 100 min., no intermission

• Extra: Post-show coffee and conversation after each performance, free to ticket holders, Prairie Meadows Lobby

• Show’s website: comefromaway.com

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