Big things sometimes come in small, understated packages. “The Band’s Visit,” currently playing at the Kennedy Center is truly one of the most astounding and beautiful pieces of theater – near perfection on every level. It also has the rare distinction of being one of the most Tony®-winning musicals in history – 10 in total, including the 2018 Tony for Best Musical. It also won a Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album, among its many other awards.
Directed by Tony,® Drama Desk, Lortel, and Obie Award winner David Cromer, The Band’s Visit is based on the acclaimed 2007 Israeli film of the same name. Cromer seamlessly weaves the story with choreography by Patrick McCollum, the onstage performances of the musicians, the actors, and the nimble, rotating set. Scott Pask’s set is complemented by Tony Award® winners Tyler Micoleau for Lighting Design and Kai Harada for Sound Design. The creative team and incredible ensemble cast a powerful spell.
…truly one of the most astounding and glorious pieces of theater – near perfection on every level.
The message of “The Band’s Visit” is very timely in this current, unsettling geopolitical atmosphere. But what is surprising about this production is that it is very apolitical. The musical is a slice of our commonality as human beings and is part of “The Human Journey,” a collaboration between the Kennedy Center, National Geographic Society, and the National Gallery of Art. The program focuses on human migration and bringing cultures together to overcome our differences.
In this case, music is the connection that binds two cultures – and what gorgeous music it is! Every song composed by Tony® and Drama Desk Award winner David Yazbek, coupled with the Tony® Award-winning orchestrations of Jamshied Sharifi, simply soars. They speak of passion, longing, memory, and humor. With a book by Tony,® NY Drama Critics Circle, Lortel, and Outer Critics Circle Award winner Itamar Moses, this musical is a magical alchemy of music and words.
The Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra (eight musicians in crisp blue uniforms) arrives in Israel in 1996 to perform for the opening of an Arab cultural center. This was a time before the complete saturation of cell phones and internet into our daily lives. Since no one shows up to take them to their destination, the band is left to its own resources. Due to a mix up in language, broken English, and the fact that their destination, Petah Tikva, has a similar sounding name to another city, the band mistakenly ends up the small, dusty town of Bet Hatikvain the Negev Desert.
There is no bus until the next day and no hotel. Temporarily stranded, some of the residents generously take members of the band into their homes for one night – selfishly, perhaps because they are waiting for something to happen as they languish in Bet Hatikva, humorously expressed in “Waiting” and “Welcome to Nowhere.”
The owner of the local café, Dina, a free spirit who once aspired to be a dancer (the mesmerizing Chilina Kennedy of “Beautiful – The Carole King Musical”), takes in the very proper conductor, Tewfiq Zakaria. He is played so beautifully by the acclaimed Israeli actor, Sasson Gabay, who starred in the original film and also performed on Broadway. With him comes one of his young musicians, Haled (the wonderfully comic Joe Josephs) with a penchant for ladies – and Chet Baker.
Itzik (Pomme Koch) is a dreamer who lacks motivation. This has caused a rift with his wife. He welcomes Simon (James Rana) to his home with his baby son, and father-in-law Avrum (David Studwell). They soon make a connection over Simon’s unfinished concerto and Avrum’s recounting the first meeting with his late wife (“Beat of Your Heart”) when he was in a band.
Attracted to Tewfiq, Dina shows him around town. Haled invites himself on a night out with Papi (Adam Gabay, the real-life son of Sasson), his blind date, Julia (Sara Kapner) and a vivacious couple, Zegler (Or Schraiber) and Anna (Jennifer Apple). At the roller disco, Papi freezes up every time he tries to speak to Julia as expressed in the very funny “Papi Hears the Ocean.” The juxtaposition of this song flowing into the exquisite and jazzy “Haled’s Song About Love” is one of the many breathtaking moments.
Dina barely breaks through Tewfiq’s stiff but kind exterior. They connect so briefly and sweetly in the sweeping “Omar Sharif” as she recounts her love of Arab music and movies and “Something Different” as she ponders the significance of their meeting while he sings an Arab song.
A young man, known only as the Telephone Guy (Mike Cefalo), is part of this night as the other characters pass by him while he stares at the only public phone in town, waiting for his girlfriend to call. He practically has apoplexy when one of the band members manages to wrestle the phone from him to call the Egyptian embassy. We will soon be rewarded with his stunning “Answer Me,” joined by the cast and on-stage musicians. A special mention to the on-stage (and off) musicians who are so elegantly integrated into the story.
This production is intoxicating and it will captivate long after you have seen it.
Running Time: Approximately 95 minutes with no intermission.
Appropriate for ages 10 and up.
“The Band’s Visit” runs through August 4, 2019 at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts 2700 F Street, NW Washington, DC 20566. For tickets, call (202) 467-4600 or go online.