By Sandi Durell
The transfer of The Band’s Visit from off Broadway’s Atlantic Theater Company to Broadway’s Ethel Barrymore Theatre, hasn’t tarnished the sheer brilliance and joy of David Yazbek (music & lyrics) and Itamar Moses’ (book) dazzling, humorous rendering of Eran Kolirin’s 2007 Israeli film of the same name. In fact, it has heightened the real humanity that resounds making one actually believe that it is music that could be the catalyst to solving the world’s problems!
It may be a bit far-fetched when a very low key group of musicians from Egypt, the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra, bedecked in their finest uniforms, are invited to perform at a new cultural center in Petah Tikvah, an Israeli town, and find themselves in a difficult situation taking a bus to a small nearly deserted village of Bet Hatikva. This because the good looking horn player Haled (a golden voiced Ari’el Stachel) whose line, “do you know Chet Baker,” (his pick up mantra to females) gets him into trouble with bus tickets to the wrong destination.
As the Band wanders into the sleepy remote desert village, led by the austere, somewhat uptight conductor Tewfiq (the extraordinarily nuanced Tony Shalhoub), they are met by Dina (the enthralling Katrina Lenk – Indecent), an alluring café owner who wears honesty on her sleeve in “Welcome to Nowhere” as the town residents wait . . . and wait for something, anything to jolt them out of the desolation and dullness of daily life. Since the next bus leaves the following morning, the Band splits up to stay with the locals (no hotel in this town) and partake of their food and generosity.
The characters in the town cover the gamut including a troubled, fighting married couple, unemployed Itzik (a sweet, childlike John Cariani), his angry and frustrated wife Iris (Kristen Sieh) and her father Avrum (a very likeable Andrew Polk) in a heartfelt performance as he and the band’s clarinetist Simon (Alok Tewari) connect in “The Beat of Your Heart” as Avrum sings about meeting and falling in love with his now departed wife. Simon is most soulful in playing his unfinished concerto that later has more impact.
A young man on the street (Adam Kantor) waits and waits for the phone to ring at the public booth hoping it’s his sweetheart; the insecure, socially inept Papi (Etai Benson) learns how to connect and become a suitor at the local roller disco – “Papi Hears The Ocean” with the help of Haled in a jazzy whispery “Haled’s Song About Love;” Dina’s ex- lover Sammy (Jonathan Raviv) all make up some of the colorful townspeople in Bet Hatikva.
But more than this, is the love story that begins to bloom between two people from such diverse cultures, an Arab, a Jew – Tewfiq and Dina – as they manage to converse in their own versions of broken English. Dina, bored but willing to push the limits to connect to the stoic Tewfiq, flirts ever so slightly, getting Tewfiq to come out to dinner as they bond over music and talk about the films of her past, “Omar Sharif” – this the alluring titled and telling song of the same name in a basket full of Yazbek’s Middle-Eastern assortment of wonderfully haunting songs. Tewfiq remains formal but more than attracted to Dina. The lilting musical interpretations by Lenk are mesmerizing and seductive in her magical voice; moving to music, her body and swaying arms sensitively sharing every emotion. Shalhoub is Lenk’s mirrored match giving an award winning performance that encompasses everything from sadness to ever so subtely revealing real emotions. They are delicately paired in their superb portrayals.
The Band’s musicians play the show on stage in small groups providing scene transitions.
David Cromer sensitively directs this exceptional cast with finesse and a sense of humor, on the turntable sand-colored set by Scott Pask. Costumes are by Sarah Laux with lighting by Tyler Micoleau.
What overwhelms is the need for humans to connect, the loneliness that haunts the soul and that it is the music that brings people together under the most unlikely of circumstances.
Egypt. . . Israel . . . mankind – all one!
Photos: Matthew Murphy
The Band’s Visit, Ethel Barrymore Theater, 243 West 47 Street, run time 1 hour, 30 minutes (no intermission), open run.