First “The Band’s Visit” was a charming Israeli film (See film review via Search)), and now it is a musical based on Eran Kolirin’s screenplay, with a book by Itamar Moses and music and lyrics by David Yazbek. Like the film, the musical thrives on an understated tone and the mix of comedy and the concept of people from different cultures able to get along.
We meet the members of an Egyptian band when they arrive in Israel in 1996 for an engagement, but through a misunderstanding wind up via bus at the town, Bet Hatikva, with a similar name to the city that the band is supposed to go to, Petah Tikva. The arrival at a café is very funny, as the uniformed band members face locals who don’t know what to make of the strangers, as if they were from outer space.
What follows is the casual interplay between the band members and the residents, with lovely songs and getting-to-know-one-another conversations. The direction by David Cromer is very clever, as is the use of the revolving stage in Scott Pask’s set design, which ferries the cast members around to display and highlight the characters and help accomplish the easy flow of the show.
There are performance standouts, foremost among them Katrina Lenk in the role of Dina, the café owner. There is a delightfully fresh originality to her performance, highlighted by her singing “It Is What It Is” and “Omar Sharif,” and more importantly, her duet, “Something Different,” with Tony Shalhoub as Tewfiq, the band conductor, in an expression of the closeness they achieve in their intimate conversation.
The overall implications of the meeting that takes place within a 24-hour period is that people from different countries can get together in peace and harmony, a hopeful ideal that needs application in today’s Middle East.
The catchy music in the show is a mix of regional and show-biz contemporary, and at the end the band assembles for a rousing, audience-pleasing number.
One occasional weakness is that in the effort to maintain a low-key style, some of the conversations meant to be very intimate can require one to strain to hear. But overall, the 100-minute intermission-less show achieves a warm, meaningful encounter that mixes comedy with a gentle example of strangers bonding in a visit that wasn’t supposed to happen. At the Atlantic Theater Company’s Linda Gross Theater, 336 West 20th Street. Phone: 212-691-5919. Reviewed December 10, 2016.