Theatre Review: THE BAND’S VISIT Is a Memorable One – Playing Fabulous Fox Through March 8
“Once not long ago, a group of musicians came to Israel from Egypt. You probably didn’t hear about it. It wasn’t very important.”
This is how the ten-time Tony Award-winning musical The Band’s Visit opens. From the very first line – not even spoken, but projected above the stage – the audience is laughing, and the tone is set for this hilarious, heartfelt, and original new musical.
The show is based on the 2007 Israeli film of the same name, which was submitted for Oscar consideration (Foreign Language), but unfortunately did not qualify due to more than fifty percent English dialogue. David Yazbek (music and lyrics) and Itamar Moses (book) brought it to Broadway ten years later, and it was a critical success – becoming one of only four musicals in history to take home the big six at the Tonys (Musical, Direction, Book, Score, Actor, and Actress). Having finally seen it, it’s no wonder the musical garnered so much attention.
The Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra, led by Colonel Tewfiq (Sasson Gabay), has traveled from Egypt to Israel to play by invitation at the Arab Culture Center. However, due to a miscommunication at the bus station, they end up in Bet Hatikva instead of Petah Tikvah (“Welcome to Nowhere”). With no busses running until the next day, they are forced to accept the hospitality of a local cafe owner, Dina (Janet Dacal), and a few other townspeople who give them shelter. For an evening, the band becomes a part of the quiet city’s life – injecting it with music and life.
One of the special parts of this national tour is getting to see Gabay as the Colonel. The actor, who did not originate the role on Broadway, played the role of Tewfiq in the original film. He brings a level of gravitas to the role which is undeniable. He is quiet, funny in his understated delivery, and gives a heartfelt performance.
Dacal is phenomenal as Dina, and owns the stage whenever she appears. Her character has a certain attitude – she’s kindhearted, but doesn’t mince words. Although she is a bit guarded at the beginning, her icy demeanor melts away the more she spends time with Tewfiq. She and Gabay have excellent chemistry, and it’s always a delight seeing them share a scene. Decal has a wonderful voice and powerful energy that unleashes every time she performs a number. “Omar Sharif,” which as become an anthem for the show, has quite the impact under her commanding rendition.
His real-life son, Adam Gabay, is also in the show. He plays “Papi,” a shy local who has trouble talking to girls (“Papi Hears the Ocean”).
The entire cast is phenomenal in the production. The titular band is comprised of extremely talented musicians who actually play their music on-stage throughout the entire show (think Once, or School of Rock). This adds another layer of depth to the entire performance, as they appear all over the city to accompany each scene. At the end of the show, they really have a chance to shine as they perform together and each gets a solo.
While the band is staying in town, they meet a variety of locals who are dealing with issues of their own. Simon (James Rana, clarinet) stays with Itzik (Pomme Koch), his wife Iris (Kendal Hartse), and their infant child. During dinner, he asks Iris’ father Avrum (David Studwell) about his wife, who has recently passed away. Encouraged to talk about it, he sings a beautiful song about her and love (“The Beat of Your Heart”), during which the others join in.
Tewfiq and charismatic trumpet player Haled (Joe Joseph) are invited to stay with Dina. She convinces the Colonel to go out with her, while Haled decides to go find some nightlife. Dina and Tewfiq’s impromptu date is a beautiful part of the show, with many great numbers like “Omar Sharif” and “Something Different.” The two actors are wonderful together – Dacal with her strong, outspoken personality, and Gabay with his reserved nature. As their stories unfold, you can’t help but cheer on the unlikely relationship.
Meanwhile, Haled meets up with Papi (Danny Burgos at our performance) and his friend who are going on a double date. When Haled asks why Papi is too shy to talk with Julia (Sara Kapner), he replies with his hilarious song, “Papi Hears the Ocean.” After finding out about his girl troubles, Haled sings him one of my favorite songs of the evening – “Haled’s Song About Love.” Joe Joseph’s voice is incredible, and it virtually appears out of nowhere. His character is pretty quiet, and then all of a sudden gives this silky-smooth rendition that would make Michael Bublé turn his head. The audience was mesmerized, and so quiet you could hear a pin drop.
I won’t go too much deeper into the plot, as it’s best to discover as it unfolds. But the entire experience is memorable, and a fantastic story about just another day in these talented, yet otherwise normal people’s lives. That’s what makes it so endearing – the entire premise revolves around a chance encounter, and the show primarily takes place during one night. Ninety minutes, no intermission.
The costumes (Sarah Laux) and scenic design (Scott Pask) are gorgeously crafted. Although it isn’t the most complicated set, there is always a lot to look at -from the bright blue uniforms to the lived-in buildings. The transitions are also seamless, due to the focus on various bandmembers playing while locations are changed.
So much happens in one night, and that is part of the magic of The Band’s Visit. They set it up right from the beginning, telling you that you probably haven’t heard this story. And yes, it isn’t really important. But to those involved, it might have been one of the best nights of their lives. And their outlook on love, life, relationships – all may have changed because of it. Watching these very human characters interact with one another, and finding the beauty in everyday life is something we should all put value in.
The Band’s Visit is a fairly new musical, and one not everyone may have heard of. Yet, it is one of the most refreshing, original, and entertaining shows I have seen in a long time. If you have the opportunity to see it, I implore you to do so. Between the clever script, brilliant performances, memorable songs, and exposure to cultures that we don’t see in most mainstream musicals – this is a one that is sure to put a smile on your face.
See The Band’s Visit now through March 8 at The Fabulous Fox. Tickets are available via MetroTix. For more information, visit the Fabulous Fox website or the official tour site at thebandsvisitmusical.com.
Photos by Matthew Murphy.