After seeing THE BAND’S VISIT opening night performance at The Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, I was invited the next day to a meet-and-greet with members of the band and four of the leads in the show: Janet Dacal (Dina), Sasson Gabay ( Colonel Tewfiq), Joe Joseph (Haled) and Coby Getzug ( Papi). As the moderator, Benny Aguayo and the cast enlightened me about the making of the movie, then the musical, and why The Band’s Visit is so important to see right now after what we have experienced the past two years.
How does your character’s journey amplify the importance of human connection?
Joe: Let the music take you to an emotional place. Art is essential. It fosters empathy and gives people experiences they many not have in their life. These are people in a small town and that thread connects with people in the audience. These characters deliver something bigger than us and puts the audience in touch with their emotions and soul.
Coby: The theme of connection is a choice to sing a piece where people are hungry to listen. The show drops all language cultural barriers. We have found the audience leans forward to share this experience with us. Traveling with the show, we bring to the audience Arabic music and instruments that some of the audience may have never heard before. It’s a collective experience. For my character Papi he has everything going wrong, because he is not great with girls, yet his new friendship with Haled sparks a chance encounter that changes his life with a beautiful human connection.
Sasson: What I like is to see is the enjoyment of the audience while performing this show. The characters in the play solve their life and salvation through music. Music helps solves Twefiq’s problems, Dina wants to be a dancer and music makes her feel alive again. The creators connect people with Chet Baker, Gershwin and others to grab the audience. The musical is quieter than many, but evenly paced to form that connection.
Janet: It’s a show of serenity, peace and something that humankind needs to see right now while dealing with the isolation of the pandemic. It’s all about human connection. One of the basic themes after the last 18 months is that we all agree that we need each other to survive. Human connection is what we have all been yearning for, just like the character Dina. She has been yearning to feel alive. She comes to life with her shared human experience with Twefiq.
What are your thoughts about the magnitude of silence, peace, and tranquility of the show?
Sasson: It’s a play with music, its a musical, but not a traditional one with a lot of song and dance. This offers a lot of emotion, peace and tranquility, sometimes the magnitude of silence. This production builds and builds slowly with a deep breath. Bit by bit the audience joins the actors on a journey through one night in Israel. You can relate and see yourself in their journey.
Coby: Something really human takes place – to listen to other humans. These characters don’t open and share especially well with strangers, so their silence gives the audience time, and the music you hear and the absence of it at times makes this such a special experience.
Janet: Musical notes are part of the pause in a scene and like in the film, there are long silences to give the audience an idea of the space of what this town is like. At times it makes you sit in your discomfort. The characters communicate in their non-native language. The writers were creative to take it from the film to the stage and keep the silence.
Joe: There are four languages in the show: English, Hebrew, Arabic and music. Music allows the characters to cut through language. My character Haled is the worst with language, yet he is a carefree guy and his song helps Papi and the girl at the roller rink unite and embrace. Haled uses jazz to connect, calm his friend, and show his love of Chet Baker. When words fail, music works. It’s a force that cuts across all cultures and boundaries.
The musical has no intermission. What’s it like to perform the show in one act?
Janet: No intermission keeps you and the audience in the show and engaged from the beginning to the end. As an actor, it is wonderful to be done in 90 minutes. Especially with 8 performances a week.
Coby: It takes you a couple minutes for the audience to tune their ear into the music and dialogue of the show. Without an intermission, the audience and we as a cast continues on this story’s journey without any interruptions.
Sasson: The audience receives a whole experience. Without an intermission, you don’t have to cut the show abruptly. When one visits the restroom, purchases a snack and drink, it takes a few minutes to get back into the show again. It allows the availability of language, of music and love to resonate without getting out of your seat.
Can you talk about the shows depiction of universal languages of music and love as told through the eyes of your character?
Sasson: The music transforms the delicate film to a delicate musical production. When David Cromer approached me to do the musical, I immediately said yes. This is the first time many audiences have seen Arabic music. The show opens people to these cultures. The audience exposure is rewarding to see each night. I’m proud that this show and the film do that to people.
Janet: What I like is Israelis playing Egyptians and Egyptians playing Israelis. It doesn’t matter where you come from, you are a human being. It was easy as a Cuban descent to play an Israeli woman. We have similar background in a way. My parents had to leave their county and start a new life.
Joe: I first saw the show on Broadway with Tony Shalaoub. The show is about people dealing with a constant fight for survival. It’s a show about unexceptional people living in an unexceptional place.
Sasson, did you ever imagine while filming the movie well over a decade ago in the desert, that you’d later be performing it on a Broadway stage in America?
Sasson: The low budget film was made in 21 days in the Southern part of Israel. We were invited to the Cannes Film Festival and applauded for it’s commercial and critical success. This show changed my life and my career. Fans of this gentle film wanted to make it into a Broadway production. It took over 8 years to put this musical onstage with actor Tony Shalhoub as Tewfiq. When he left the show I was asked to play Tewfiq again.
Do any fans of the film approach you and share their thoughts and feeling of the impact the story had on them?
Do you have any favorite songs, melodies, lyrics, or even moments of silence in David’s score?
Janet: The role is Dina is a beautiful role for women. David Yazbek wrote the music and lyrics which captures Dina through her songs. Its an expression of who she is through the melodies. They are hauntingly beautiful and it’s a true honor to play this role. I feel so lucky doing this show. She enjoys singing the song ‘Omar Sharif’ in the show. When she recently adopted a male dog, she named it after the song, Omar Sharif.
Coby: ‘Waiting’ is my favorite song. The line “There’s two kinds of waiting, there’s the kind where you’re expecting something new, or even strange, but this kind of waiting, you keep looking off out into the distance, you keep looking off out into the distance, even though you know the view is never going to change, you wait…” Every day has looked the same for these people for so long and then this band of musicians comes into town and for less than 24 hours changes the lives of everyone they meet.
Joe: The friends thread comes through in the song ‘Haled’s Song About Love.’ The scene of young couples at the roller rink are enhanced with the instrumental nature of love. The instruments the band plays enhances the gentle emotional response. They take you by the hand to enhance the story. Every night we perform is dynamic and rewarding.
How do you feel LA audiences will respond to the musical? Both Janet and Coby are from Los Angeles.
Coby: I was excited to be back in the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. The last time I stepped foot in this hotel was during my 10th grade Winter Formal. Bringing back to the language and music, my mother is from Israel and never thought she would see her son speak Hebrew onstage. She invited 40 family and friends to come see the show tonight.
Joe: The show is an analogy of what we do 9 times a week. We connect with the audience in a fundamental way for the need to be together as social animals. It’s a blessing at each performance. Theater is an ecosystem of the economy. Diverse people seeking entertainment go to restaurants near the theatre, park in the lots, stay in nearby hotels, shop in stores. A theatre brings people to a destination spending more money than just a ticket to a show.
Janet: I went to a performing arts middle and high school in Los Angeles with students from all different backgrounds. I was exposed to so many different types of people and cultures. It opened me to different cultures and how we are all human.
When it comes to acceptance of cultural diversity, can you draw from your own experiences and relate them to moments in The Band’s Visit?
Sasson: There are so many borders and boundaries inhibiting us in life. This show gives us a chance to dare and do it. Dina’s character initiated the Israelis and Egyptians to be together.
Coby: The show exposes the audience to be open to new cultures. It’s a story of resilience and hope. This show opens one to a cultural tapestry of humankind..
The Band’s Visit closes on December 19, 2021. Tickets are available at Broadway in Hollywood