In Broadway’s Gentlest Musical, Hope Strikes Up the “Band”

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[article as originally published in The Clyde Fitch Report, November 12, 2017.]

The wonder holds in The Band’s Visit, the musical dreamscape now on Broadway less than a year after an Off-Broadway unveiling that opened to rapturous reviews. Some wondered whether a show based on a 2007 film about a lost Egyptian military band that spends an unexpected night in a small Israeli town might be, if you’ll pardon the expression, a frame too thin for a musical. Have no fear: the plot plays out as universal and resonant. Twice I have walked out at the end of this show with renewed love for humanity, hope for the musical theater as an art form, and humming a few delicious, haunting melodies.

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Residents of Bet Hatikva at Dina’s café meet visitors. Photo: Matthew Murphy.

The design of The Band’s Visit has transferred elegantly to the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. The shifting walls and turntable transitions designed by Scott Pask, the ethereal lighting by Tyler Micholeau and the evocative projections by Maya Ciarrocchi create a world that dances with David Yazbeck’s inventive score, Itamar Moses’ heartfelt script (based on Eran Kolirin’s original screenplay), Patrick McCollum’s subtle choreography and matchless direction by David Cromer. As in any large ensemble, there are many performances to choose from, including Tony Shalhoub’s bandleader Tewfiq and Katrina Lenk’s café owner Dina. But note that all the performer’s names are below the title. This is an ensemble, in other words, that breathes as one.

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Kristen Sieh and John Cariani at left with family and guests. Photo: Matthew Murphy.

Set in 1996, Kolirin’s original story is intensely political; it makes The Band’s Visit unusual as a musical and its deliberately gentle pace for 100 intermissionless minutes a fascinating choice. We’re in the small town of Bet Hatikva (where band members must stay overnight), not in the city of Petah Tikva (where band members were trying to go). Yet, despite such specificity, the framework of the show is actually universal: travelers pass through, and we wonder whether the townsfolk will be friendly or angry. We wonder what we will learn from them — what all people can learn from each other. One can see why Cromer, whose 2009 Off-Broadway revival of Our Town established his reputation in NYC, would be attracted to this material.

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