Based on a 2007 film of the same name, The Band’s Visit was first produced by the Atlantic Theater Company last season. Although I had already seen (and loved) this musical, I decided to revisit its uptown transfer to Broadway. A band from Eqypt has been invited to play a concert in Israel but manages to get lost. As a result, they wind up in Bet Hatikva instead of Petah Tikvah. What’s the difference? Upon arrival, they hear the song, “Welcome to Nowhere.”
From this point, the band and its members interact with the locals. Rather than being an overtly political musical, The Band’s Visit is more interested in life and relationships from multiple perspectives. The young and the not so young. The practical and the hopelessly romantic. And, especially, those who can hear and savor the music of life. Like its not so distant cousin, the Tony Award winning musical Once, music is the connective tissue to drive the plot and develop characterizations in very intimate scenes. This is a slow, quiet, funny, sad, realistic, magical, musical tour of a very ordinary town awakened by visitors. They bring something new to cherish, if only for a moment.
Director David Cromer (The Treasurer, Tribes, Our Town, Adding Machine) sets a melancholy but beautiful mood and tempo to deliver the welcome Middle Eastern influenced music and lyrics of David Yazbek (The Full Monty, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels). As the band’s leader, Tony Shalhoub (Act One) is near perfect, as usual, with the right combination of dignified and human. Golden voiced Ari’el Stachel has one of the peak moments, singing the melodious song “Haled’s Song About Love” with Papi, one of the locals, played by Etai Benson. However, The Band’s Visit belongs first and foremost to Katrina Lenk (Indecent) as Dina, the proprietor of the café who first greets the band. Effortlessly sexy and seductive, bored and world-weary yet still dreaming, Ms. Lenk’s performance is equally luminous and grounded.
An excerpt from the Playbill bio from George Abud (Camal, a band member): “I hope young Arabic kids … know there there is starting to be a place for their expression, their stories and their faces. The Arab voice, rich in history and beautiful music, is vital in American theater.” Indeed.