The Band’s Visit, lovingly directed by the wonderful David Cromer, is a beautiful piece of theatre with delicious music and characters in a handsomely constructed evening.
Based on the Israeli film of the same name, the play’s book is by Itamar Moses with music and lyrics by David Yazbek, music that soared and made us dance in our seats and our souls. Music and love, that’s what The Band’s Visit is about. It is seductive and charming, sweet but not treacly.
Patrick McCollum’s delightful and elegant choreography grows from the characters’ movements and feelings, easily making its way around Scott Pask’s imaginative scenic design.
While its music put me in mind of the brilliant Indecent earlier this year [http://mollyismusing.blogspot.com/2017/08/], The Band’s Visit is much simpler, a snippet — more of a short story than the full novel Indecent resembled. Nonetheless, The Band’s Visit gives deep satisfaction with interesting characters we can identify with in ordinary and extraordinary social situations. A small town visited by unexpected strangers, foreigners. In a small American town, would these foreigners have been taken in and enjoyed? I may be grumpy and downright depressed about the state of our nation, but I’m very much afraid not.
The basic story is simple. An Egyptian band is invited to visit an Arab Cultural Center in an Israeli city to play a concert of traditional music. There are two towns in Israel with names that sound, to non-Israelis, extremely similar. The city expecting the band is Petah Tikva. The aforementioned Egyptian band gets on the wrong bus to the wrong town — Bet Hatikva. According to its residents, said wrong town not only has no Cultural Center but no culture at all, although it does have a roller skating rink. It’s a dusty desert town with people who are terribly bored and hopeless, yet somehow the best humans you could hope for. The greeting the lost band received was musical and hilarious led by the thrilling Katrina Lenk, as a local café owner named Dina. A taste: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OzcHlnJ4c1Q Dina and the Egyptian bandleader, Tewfiq, charmingly played by Tony Shalhoub, explore one another as they while away the evening, gently discovering each other’s past and present.
The cast is sublime, featuring actors who are musicians, actors who dance or skate, music everywhere. There’s John Cariani as a young father learning to be a husband and Etai Benson as a lonely young man who befriends a sax player with a passion for Chet Baker. Unlikely friendships form, and music arises from them all. A running theme of what appears to be a hopeless long-distance romance gives us Adam Kantor staring at a pay phone for hours, awaiting a call from his girlfriend. When that young man sings, he breaks hearts.
The Band’s Visit is a seductive musical evening, an exquisite short story with far-reaching themes to which we’d be wise to pay attention.
~ Molly Matera, signing off and offering this: If you have lost faith or hope, go to The Band’s Visit, then share the joy.