Imagine an isolated tiny desert town somewhere in Israel in 1996, where the inhabitants say today is exactly like yesterday and tomorrow will be exactly like today.

by Ann Marie Cusella

The Band’s Visit is playing at Shea’s

The Band is Visiting

Imagine an isolated tiny desert town somewhere in Israel in 1996, where the inhabitants say today is exactly like yesterday and tomorrow will be exactly like today, where one must imagine a park because there isn’t one, where the people are bored and long for something to happen. And then one day something does, in the form of a travelling orchestra from Alexandria, Egypt who thought they were going to perform at the Arabic Cultural Center in one town and find they have mistakenly taken a bus to a very different town and must wait till the next morning for another. Is it important? Perhaps not. But, over the course of the next 24 hours, many unexpected things happen that change the tenor of people’s lives when the guests are taken into people’s homes because, of course, there is no hotel for them to stay in. They do not speak each other’s languages, so do their best with each other in English.

The Band’s Visit was originally a 2007 Israeli movie that won many awards and was adapted into a musical, with Book by Itamar Moses and Music and Lyrics by David Yazbek. It won 10 Tony Awards in 2018, including Best Musical.

Don’t miss your chance to see The Band’s Visit

Ordinary People

Performed as a series of vignettes as day and night progress into morning, we are given an intimate look into the lives of “ordinary” people from two supposedly disparate cultures that have clashed over the centuries but have much in common when politics and religion recede to the background. The Band’s Visit speaks to longing, to disappointment and regret, to anger, but also to hope and love in its musical numbers and very witty, warm, and sometimes heartbreaking dialogue.

The owner of the town’s café, Dina, takes charge of feeding and finding housing for the band. As played by Janet Dacal in a nuanced and riveting performance, Dina is a take charge, world-weary woman with a tough exterior who has yet to be at peace with herself and her choices, yet still maintains the heart of a romantic. Her voice soars to the heavens at times as she opens her world and her heart to Tewfiq, the conductor of the band. She commands others with a sardonic visage and perfect timing.

Sasson Gabay originated the role of Tewfiq in the film and played him on Broadway. An Israeli actor, he won many awards for the film. He personifies a man who has given up, but still goes on. He, too, is world-weary, but in a quiet and subdued manner. Where Dina is all out there, he is all contained, not wanting to engage with others. His is a more subtle performance, with emotions repressed until he erupts, as he does several times at the young Haled (who speaks English poorly and is always ogling the ladies in a very charming and obvious manner).

Music is one of the stars of the show

For the Music Lovers

The songs and music – ah, the music – are so well integrated into the story that it seems natural that people would break into song. From the hopeless Waiting to the longing and romanticism of Omar Sharif – “they floated in on a Jasmine wind” and Something Different – to the amusing and sad lament Papi Hears the Ocean by the inept would-be young lover Papi (Coby Getzug), the songs meld into the dialogue.

The Middle Eastern music is one of the stars of the show. It is spectacular. From the rousing Overture at the start and Concert at the end, we are treated to such beautiful music that our spirits take wing and we are transported to a place that is sweet and spicy, filled with love and longing. Chet Baker shows up, too, as does George Gershwin. Hmmm.

The sets are charming, very cleverly manipulated and the use of a turntable allows the cast, which is excellent to a person, to move about the town or the roller rink, or…? in graceful motion.

This is not a big bells and whistles musical. It is quieter and goes deeper. It draws you into its world and allows you to be surprised and delighted by its inhabitants, as they reveal themselves to each other and also to themselves.

You can see The Band’s Visit at Shea’s Performing Art Center through November 7th, and if you can, you really should.

 

Dates, Tickets and More Information

The Band’s Visit @ Shea’s Performing Art Center is playing until Sunday, November 7, 2021.

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