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The Band’s Visit on Broadway – A Review

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I hadn’t meant to see The Band’s Visit, and lucked into the Broadway tickets at short notice, because a friend couldn’t use hers. I’m very glad I did, because the show is absolutely beautiful.

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I didn’t see Tony Shalhoub in the starring role as Tewfiq, the leader of an Egyptian band which ends up in a remote desert town in Israel thanks to a bus station mix up; that was rather a shame, just because Tony Shalhoub is an amazing actor and I would have enjoyed it. However, I’ve no complaints whatsoever about Dariush Kashani’s portrayal of the character, a dignified, courteous man whose comportment hides private pain.

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Tewfiq and the rest of the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra end up having to spend the night before they can get another bus to the correct destination for their concert. There are no hotels, but Dina, the owner of a small café, offers to take some of them in, and volunteers her regular customers to assist as well. Dina is played by Katrina Lenk, and she’s a force of nature, beautiful and passionate (and a lovely singer and dancer). Dina has made some mistakes in her life, but she has an extremely kind heart and her hospitality sets the evening’s events in motion.

That’s it. The relationship that develops over the course of the night between Tewfiq and Dina is touching, but does not quite blossom into romance. The youngest band member, the handsome and flirtatious Haled (Ari’el Stachel), tags along with some of the locals on an outing to a roller rink, where he provides Papi (Etai Benson) with some assistance in the romance department, soothing his anxiety and allowing for a successful date. Another storyline involves band member Simon (played by Alok Tewari), a clarinet player who has never finished a concerto he’d begun, who spends the night with Itzik (John Cariani) and his unhappy family.

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One of my friends (who also loved this musical) told me that she appreciated it because of how it completely confounded the expectations of narrative. There’s really no plot to speak of, no happy ending, no resolution. Certainly there’s nothing as simple or clichéd as music being the universal language on display here. There’s no showstopper, no special effects, no big dance numbers. The characters converse in English since the band cannot speak Hebrew and the villagers cannot speak Arabic; they don’t have sufficient fluency to debate politics or religion. What they do have are musical and very human moments of grace, small yet meaningful: Itzik’s lullaby to his son, the description of how his parents met when his father (Avrum, played by Andrew Polk) performed in a band in his youth and fell in love with a girl in the audience, the unfinished concerto putting the crying baby to sleep, Haled’s love for Chet Baker, Tewfiq teaching Dina about conducting, an impromptu singalong of “Summertime” from Porgy and Bess, Dina’s love for the classic Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum. Somehow, it all adds up to being a wonderful show, full of longing, full of melancholy, but with a slight touch of sweetness all the same.

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If you can’t make it to New York City to see the performance, there’s a charming Israeli movie of The Band’s Visit from 2007. (It was Israel’s original foreign language film submission for the Academy Awards that season, but it was rejected by the Academy for having too much of the dialogue in English.) It’s worth seeing, but it can’t compare to the energy and immediacy of the live musical theater. It is my fervent hope that these fine actors (and the composer, David Yazbek) are awarded at the Tonys later this year.

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Laura LaVelle is an attorney and writer who lives in Connecticut, in a not quite 100-year-old house, along with her husband, two daughters, and a cockatiel.

Laura can be contacted at laura@newswhistle.com.

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Lead-In Image: Screengrab – https://thebandsvisitmusical.com/