At Opening Night of THE BAND”S VISIT inside the Dolby Theatre, theater patrons were giddy with excitement. For some, this was the first time they have stepped into a theater to see a live show in almost two years.
Based on the book by Itamar Moses and low budget Israeli film of the same name by Israeli screenwriter and director Eran Kolirin, the story was developed into a musical by Producer Orin Wolf’s love of the story. With support from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Laurents/Hatcher Foundation, and the National Alliance for Musical Theatre’s National Fund for New Musicals it was made years later and opened on Broadway in 2017. Receiving favorably results from audiences and critics, this little show swept the Tony Awards nominations and won 10 awards including Best Musical, as well as Best Director of a Musical, David Cromer, Best Score and the two leading acting awards with Tony Shalhoub as Tewfiq Zakaria, the colonel of the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra.
Now one of Broadway in Hollywood’s productions, the touring company has actor Sasson Gabay once again performing as the lead character. Sasson is no stranger to this role, as he played Twefiq in the movie and on Broadway after Shalboub left the show.
The show begins with the line “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” to introduce Colonel Twefiq and his band of musicians arriving in Israel and excited to perform for a local cultural organization in Petah Tikva. The miscommunication at the bus station between Arabic and Israeli translation, lands the band in a “bleak” “boring” and “beige” desert town.
Director David Cromer cleverly uses a revolving stage to introduce the townspeople in the “Waiting” scene, where every day is the same. Confused and hungry, the band of musicians in light blue Sargent Pepper style uniforms inquire with Dina (Janet Dacal), a local café owner about something to eat and their whereabouts. Again due to a language barrier, they strike up a conversation in English, as Dina sings along with Itzik (Clay Singer) and Papi (Coby Getzug) “Welcome to Nowhere.” Lighting designer Tyler Micoleau casts a beautiful orange glow across the stage signaling dusk.
With no buses arriving until the following day, Dina and a few locals exhibit an act of kindness by taking these men in for the night. Soon their lives become intertwined in unexpected ways and this lackluster town soon wakes up and shines, just as Dina and others in town break down their walls and come alive with the presence of these strangers.
THE BAND”S VISIT reminds me a little of the musical “Come From Away”, it’s a feel good story with music and lyrics by David Yazbek. The lively number “The Beat of Your Heart” has Avrum (David Studwell) singing about how love sparks something upbeat. He sings how “In love and music all is fair” while sharing to Itzik, Simon (James Rana) and Camal (Yoni Avi Battat) how he met his wife. “Love starts when the tune is sweet” is the theme of how music and love are the universal language. These four characters joyfully sing “Summertime” from the musical Porgy and Bess, and the magic of music brings Israeli and Egyptian strangers together on common ground. Later in the show, Simon plays his clarinet to soothe the couple’s crying infant, bringing peace and harmony into the fractured household.
The audience claps multiple times throughout the show, especially after Dina brings out a playful side of the Colonel. Dacal’s melodic voice has the audience lean towards the stage as she sings about her fond memory of watching Egyptian movies with Umm Kulthum and Omar Sharif “flying in a Jasmine scented wind” in song “Omar Sherif.” Shai Wetzer is fantastic on the Arabic percussion tapping the “daraba”, which means “to strike” with gusto in Arabic.
For such a dull town, the local roller rink is full of swirling and sparkling colors as Haled (Joe Joseph) sings the jazzy “Haled’s Song About Love” so buttery soft and smooth to inspire awkward Papi (Coby Getzug) to take a step towards love.
Another favorite scene is when Tewliq and Dina sing “Something Different”. He sings in Arabic, while she freely sings and dances about reviving a spark inside. Lighting director Tyler Micoleau has Dina’s seductive shadow illuminated on a back wall, as she twirls around Tewliq.
Throughout the play is the mention of Chet Baker and his hit song ‘My Funny Valentine’. Even though Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart wrote this song for the musical “Babes in Arms”, Baker’s signature song is sung in such an exquisite style that it gave me goosebumps. Not only are the characters awakened, the audience is too.
Another beautiful voice is the Telephone Guy (Joshua Grosso) who we only see his profile for most of the show, as he obsessively waits next to a pay phone hoping his loved one will call. When the phone finally rings, he picks it up and sings ”Answer Me” so exquisitely that he steals the scene, even as the ensemble join in.
The next day when the band gathers at Dina’s cafe to catch their bus, it’s a mirror image of the opening scene. It’s time to say goodbye as they board their bus to “Petah Tikvah”.
When the stage cuts to black and the actors take their final curtain bow, stay in your seat for an added bonus of music and good cheer.
THE BAND’S VISIT offers laughter, inspires hope, and ultimately brings all of us together for 90 minutes to celebrate friendship and the basic need of human connection.
THE BAND’S VISIT features music and lyrics by Tony Award-winner David Yazbek, and a book by Tony Award-winner Itamar Moses. It is based on the screenplay by Eran Kolirin, and is directed by Tony Award-winner David Cromer.
Showtime is at 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sundays. The show ends on Dec. 19, 2021.
Tickets start at $30 (subject to change)
Contact: 1-800-982-2787 or BroadwayInHollywood.com.
Dolby Theatre, 6801 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.