Music has bridged cultures from time immemorial. How else can we explain the phenomenon of Bollywood, or the popularity of artists like Chet Baker and chanteuses like Mina and Babs around the globe? The Band’s Visit, one of only four musicals in Broadway history to win the unofficial “Big Six” Tony Awards in 2017 (Best Musical, Best Book, Best Score, Best Actor in a Musical, Best Actress in a Musical, and Best Direction of a Musical Awards), is a testament to this power, revealing how underneath it all, we have more in common that we dare to admit.
With music and lyrics by David Yazbek and a book by Itamar Moses, the show is based on the superb 2007 Israeli film of the same name. It follows the men of the Egyptian Police Orchestra who have been invited to play at an Arab Cultural Center in Petah Tikvah (with a P) in Israel, and not the desolate city starting with a B, where they accidentally end up. Feisty local café owner, Dina (Janet Dacal) facilitates a stayover with local residents until the next day’s bus arrives. This, naturally, leads to an inadvertent opportunity for them to commiserate and bond in profound and even hilarious ways. Under the spell of the desert sky, secrets are revealed, wounds are exposed, intimacies are shared, and gorgeous music (an intoxicating blend of Arab, klezmer and jazz) is relished.
The Band’s Visit has none of the splashy musical and dance numbers that seem to define its genre, but neither does it need them; the sublime story, message, and heart are far more captivating than the typical bells and whistles of most musicals. Scenic Design by Scott Pask is appropriately minimal and effective, never distracting from the performances. The cast is in top form, and even fans of the movie will have a tough time picking which version they love more. Joe Joseph (Loveless Texas, Baghdaddy) as Haled, the Chet Baker crooning band member brings comedy and cassanova swagger, seducing us with one of the evening’s most exquisite numbers — the jazzy, Haled’s Song About Love. Janet Dacal’s Dina makes us sigh with longing when she reminisces about watching Egyptian movies in her childhood in Omar Sharif. And as for Sasson Gabay, reprising his role from the movie as the leader of the band, no amount of praise is sufficient. His Tewfiq, outwardly stoic, but concealing a lifetime of regrets and loss is riveting.
In a time when we are bombarded with strife, fear and division, this is the one show we need to make us feel united and even human again.
— Victor Riobo / G. Dhalla
The Band’s Visit is playing at Dolby Theatre, 6801 Hollywood Blvd., L.A. through Dec. 19. Tickets available at Broadway in Hollywood.