Sunday, June 10, 2018

The Band's Visit on Broadway

The Band's Visit is the musical on everybody's lips as the Tony Awards approaches. At the ceremony tonight, this little gem of a show is sure to take away many of the 10 Tonys for which it is nominated.  It is a musical that takes us back to a time before jukebox creations, and shows with numbers that try to top each other. But more importantly, it is a show about real people caught in real-life situations that many musical comedies do not attempt. Yes, the show is undoubtedly a comedy, much in the way that Anton Chekhov's stage works can be labeled comedies. It is about the ebb and flow of life, at times uproarious, at times sad and brooding, but always looking for the bright side, the light at the end of the tunnel, if you will.

Adapted from a film by the same name, the book by Itamar Moses and the music and lyrics by David Yazbek tell the story of how an Egyptian military musical band makes a wrong turn on their way to a concert, and end up in a backwater Israeli town in 1996. Strangers in a strange land, especially in their dapper blue uniforms which makes them look like the forgotten section of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band.  With songs that barely rise above a whisper, but which enter and stay in our collective mind, the meeting of Arabs and Jews, seemingly mortal enemies, their political and language differences melt away thanks to the music that the band brings: a mixture of Egyptian classical tunes and the jazz legacy of Chet Baker. Mr. Yazbek has written songs for grownups: Of course, when it comes to today's Broadway, Mr. Yazbek is truly a stranger in a strange land, and for this singular accomplishment he will be honored with the Tony at tonight's ceremony. I can assure you of that.

Katrina Lenk, in a star-making performance, steals the show.  As Dina, a young woman who has seen too much of life, and has settled in "Nowheresville," commands the stage with her presence and her beautiful, powerful voice. Likewise, Dariush Kashani, as Tewfiq, (a part originated by Tony Shalhoub, and a role for which he is nominated for Best Performance by an Actor in a Musical) the leader of the band, creates a three-dimensional character, a serious man full of dignity, and pride in his musicians, but also carrying a deep-seated pain at the death of his wife and only son. The rest of the cast is wonderful, especially John Cariani, who I have enjoyed in the recent Something Rotten, and the latest revival of Fiddler on the Roof.

The Band's Visit is a not-to-be-missed show. The kind of musical that Broadway talent should be aiming to create all the time. Believe me, audiences want to be moved by shows that touch the mind as well as the heart.

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