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Paulanne Simmons

"The Band's Visit" - Hopefully It Will Be a Long One


The Band's Visit
Directed by David Cromer
The Ethel Barrymore Theatre
243 West 47 Street
Running time 90 minutes.

Opened Oct. 7, 2017

Reviewed on Nov. 16, 2017


Katrina Lenk as Dina and Tony Shalhoub as Tewfiq in
The Band's Visit. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

When a musical transfers from off-Broadway to Broadway, there are always a few essential questions. Will the production work on a bigger stage? Will the sound fill a larger house? Will the show be true to the original, even with new members in the cast? Happily, The Band's Visit, helmed by David Cromer, answers all these questions with a resounding yes.

The bigger stage gives the audience a fuller picture of what is happening behind center stage. David Yazbek's score is clearer and crisper than ever, thanks to Kai Harada's excellent sound design. Newcomers Etai Benson as Papi, and Adam Kantor as the Telephone Guy fit seamlessly into the cast. Best of all, none of the warmth and intimacy of the show is lost in the move from the Atlantic Theater Company's relatively small house to the more formidable Ethel Barrymore Theatre.

Itamar Moses's script, based on the the 2007 film of the same name, is about one day in the life of the Alexandria Ceremonial Band and a few citizens of Bet Hatikva,
the small Israeli town where they accidentally end up ("Welcome to Nowhere"), having confused that town with the much more cosmopolitan Petah Tikva.

The company of The Band's Visit.
Photos by Matthew Murphy

The band is led by the subdued and formal Tewfiq (Tony Shalhoub), who tries his best to keep his musicians in line: Camal (George Abud), the violinist; Simon (Alok Tewari), the clarinetist and a would-be composer who can't quite finish his piece; Haled (Ari'el Stachel), the trumpeter, an aspiring Don Juan who is obsessed with Chet Baker and women with beautiful eyes. All the actors play their instruments onstage.

Because there is no hotel in this tiny town, the owner of the cafe, the sexy and sardonic Dina (Katrina Lenk), offers to take a few of the musicians in for the night and convinces the unemployed, Itzik (John Cariani) to do the same.

The mix of Israelis and Egyptians is magic. It's nothing like the parting of the Red Sea or the Burning Bush, but rather the simple serendipity of troubled, flawed and broken people making contact with exactly the right individuals who can make them feel almost whole again.


The cast of The Band's Visit. Photos by Matthew Murphy.

The clarinetist meets Itzik's widowed father, Avrum (Andrew Polk), and Itzik's disappointed wife, Iris (Kristen Sieh). His unfinished concerto puts their baby to sleep and soothes the adults' wounded souls. Haled teaches the socially awkward Papi (Etai Benson) what to say to a woman and where to put his hands ("Haled's Song about Love").

But the most poignant encounter is the one between Dina, who dreams of Omar Sharif and Oum Kalthoum, the Egyptian chanteuse ("Omar Sharif"); and Tewfiq who is haunted by the memory of his wife and son. Lenk's embodiment of careless sexuality and broken dreams, and Shaloub's portrait of reservation and regret link beautifully into an incomplete puzzle of human suffering.


Kristen Sieh as Iris, John Cariani as Itzik, Alok Tewari as Simon, Andrew Polk as Avrum and George Abud as Camal in The Band's Visit. Photos by Matthew Murphy.

Perhaps the meaning of the play is best captured by the Telephone Guy ( Adam Kantor) who stands endlessly in front of the telephone booth waiting for a call from his distant girlfriend ("Answer Me"). While the mood is best expressed in Yazbek's soulful and sentimental, middle-eastern inflected score, with its gentle ballads and songs of ironic cheer.Although this is a play made up of discrete scenes, Cromer keeps the action moving smoothly with the help of Scott Pask's revolving set, an apt metaphor for how we move in and out of other peoples' lives

Tony Shalhoub as Tewfiq and Katrina Lenk as Dina in The Band's Visit.
Photos by Matthew Murphy





At the beginning of the play, Dina tells the audience, "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." By the end of the play we are quite convinced these events are very significant. We hope everyone will hear about them.



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