Juia Knitel (Photo provided by PPAC)

When we chatted, Julia Knitel and the cast of “Come From Away” was in Philadelphia. It was Super Bowl weekend, and the Philadelphia Eagles were in the big game. She laughed about that. “I’m not a sports fan by any stretch. I didn’t even know they were in the Super Bowl.”

Knitel’s been with “Come From Away” since 2019. “We were shut down for 18 months,” she said, but she counts herself lucky. “I knew I had a great show to come back to. And it’s great to revisit some of the places we visited before Covid.”

“Come From Away” is based on the experiences of the people of Gander, Newfoundland on the day after September 11, 2001, when 38 flights were grounded at their once bustling airport. The show runs this week at the Providence Performing Arts Center.

“I had never seen the show when I auditioned,” said Knitel. “I had worked on a reading with one of the show’s assistant directs, and he said he thought I’d be good in the show.”

She auditioned and got a few callbacks before being cast. “Then I saw the show. I’m so glad that I hadn’t seen it (before auditioning) because I would have really wanted the show.”

Knitel’s primary role is Janice, the TV reporter whose first day on the job was September 11. “She’s expecting a nice easy first day of work. She doesn’t know anyone, and she’s kind of thrust into a very forward-facing role.”

Like the other actors in the cast of twelve, Knitel plays another character – a flight attendant – and participates in all the ensemble numbers.

Knitel grew up in community theater. Her parents ran a company in the basement of a church in Fairlawn, New Jersey. “My parents created it before I was born. They decided the community needed a central place to create art together.”

Like most kids whose parents are in community theater, Knitel grew up doing everything. But as she got older, she ventured out of Fairlawn. Regional shows like “The Producers,” playing the bombshell secretary, Ula. “Definitely out of the typical realm for me. I usually play sweet and demure.”

A special presentation of “Gypsy” at The Muny – the Saint Louis Municipal Opera Theater. “That was great. 11,000 seats, and we sold out eight shows. Literally amazing.”

And then she was cast as Carole King in “Beautiful” on Broadway. Not that simply, of course. She auditioned and got nine callbacks. She was aiming for ensemble, maybe to cover for the main role. “Then around Christmas of 2014, I got the call. ‘We want to workshop you for Carole King.’ I was gobsmacked. I was 21, flying by the seat of my pants.”

She remembered where she’d come from. “I was in the ensemble, I was a chorus girl in my mind. Understudy, dance captain. I was so comfortable in that.”

Then she read the character breakdown. “She was a ‘reluctant star.” That was me. I said, ‘You really think I can do that?’”

And she did. First on Broadway, then in the second year of the national tour. “It opened up the world to me.”

As we chat, I point out that Knitel doesn’t have much of an accent. Certainly not a New Jersey accent. “I grew up in an accent-less house,” she says. “The Newfoundland accent, though, was hard to wrap my head around. Now it’s in my body, but it’s so foreign. We have a wonderful dialect coach who works with us regularly.”

Knitel was in the third grade when 9/11 happened. “It’s a pretty visceral memory. You know something really massive is happening. Almost immediately, kids were getting pulled out of school. My parents were both teachers, so I was the last kid to go, sitting in my classroom alone with my teacher who was quite distraught.”

Knitel grew up 20 minutes outside of Manhattan, “really close to what was happening.” She remembers her father sitting on the coffee table, watching TV. “He’d watch the same footage over and over. I’d never seen my father cry like that. It was very intense.”

This “Come From Away” tour wraps up in four months. Meanwhile, Knitel is enjoying her time playing Janice. “She has a really beautiful story arc throughout the show. She’s naïve, young, and nervous coming in. It’s a really wonderful role. She gets to make people laugh, make people feel safe.”

The Providence Performing Arts Center presents “Come From Away” through February 26. For tickets and information, call 401-421-ARTS or visit www.ppacri.org.