by Roseann Cane
If you prefer a big, splashy musical with acrobatic choreography and catchy, hummable tunes, The Band’s Visit may not meet your expectations. It far exceeded mine. I’d been curious to see this multiple Tony-Award-winning show because of the praise it’s garnered. I’d imagined a sweet, clever storyline. What I got was an uplifting, humane, simple yet elegant experience of theater I shall treasure. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.
I’m reminded of William Blake’s Auguries of Innocence:
To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour…
In The Band’s Visit, the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra has just arrived in Israel from Egypt. They have been invited to perform for a local Arabic organization, and are awaiting a welcome from a representative of that organization in a Tel Aviv bus station. No one shows up to greet them, and the band’s rather reserved leader, Colonel Tewfiq Zakaria (Loren Lester), asks one of the younger officers, Haled (Joe Joseph), to purchase tickets to the city of Petah Tikvah. The Israeli clerk misunderstands Haled’s Egyptian accent, and instead sells him tickets to the town of Bet Hatikva.
The band members find themselves in an isolated desert town, where they approach two cafe workers, Itzik and Papi (Pomme Koch and Adam Gabay), to ask for directions to the Arabic cultural center. Confused by the request, Itzik and Papi summon the owner of the cafe, Dina (Bligh Voth), who realizes the mistake, and since there isn’t a bus to Petah Tikvah until the next day, offers the band members a meal and lodging arrangements at several different homes for the night.
The beauty within this show emanates from the human connections that develop. The story develops through a series of vignettes, in which residents of Bet Hatikva, frustrated but accepting of the monotony of their small-town isolation, reveal their stories to the members of the band. The band members, in time, share theirs. All, of course, have experienced love and grief, but the cross-cultural lines all but disappear as their common humanity becomes apparent.
The Middle-Eastern music is haunting and lush. I’ve had opportunities to attend some wonderful shows at Proctors, but once again, I was frustrated by the acoustics. Although everyone in the cast had a lovely, powerful voice, the music overpowered them, making the lyrics difficult to hear. Even so, the ensemble is, to a person, spellbinding and eminently relatable. We are helplessly drawn into their lives because we all have experienced love and grief. Because the Israeli townspeople and the Egyptian band members, speaking to each other in English, cannot fully express themselves through verbal language, the music fills in the linguistic gaps and profoundly enhances the emotional connection not only between characters, but between the actors and their audience.
Patrick McCollum’s choreography is at turns witty and seductive. The scenic design by Scott Pask makes clever use of a rotating floor and changes seamlessly (we find ourselves in a bus station, a small town cafe, several different apartments, and even a discotheque); Tyler Micoleau’s lighting design skillfully intensifies each scene.
At the curtain call, as the thrilled audience rose to cheer and applaud, the two audience members seated directly in front of me and my companion skedaddled out of their seats and rushed to the exit. I am all too familiar with the problems of navigating out of the crowded parking garage, but the exquisite work by this sterling ensemble really did more than earn our gratitude. Besides, the two audience members can’t know what joy they missed; after the curtain call, the band graced us with their concert. It was a knockout. These actors are great musicians, and while hearing the live music, clear and elegant, made the contrast between the over-amplified music within the show and the crystalline live music that much more obvious, it was a glorious gift.
The Band’s Visit at Proctors January 3-5, 2020. Music and Lyrics by David Yazbek, book by Itamar Moses based on the screenplay by Eran Kolirin. Directed by David Cromer. Choreography by Patrick McCollum, scenic design by Scott Pask, lighting design by Tyler Micoleau. CAST: Loren Lester as Colonel Tewfiq Zakaria, Joe Joseph as Haled, Pomme Koch as Itzik, Adam Gabay as Papi, Bligh Voth as Dina.
Click HERE for tickets and more information.