Having been captivated by the off-Broadway production of “The Band’s Visit” at the Atlantic Theater, I wondered how it would fare when brought to Broadway. No need to worry. It is essentially the same mesmerizing musical even though one can never exactly recapture the thrill of seeing something special for the first time. Now the reward is being able to better savor the ingredients with more attention to detail. If you have not seen “The Band’s Visit” in its earlier staging, a special theater treat awaits you, and if you did get to the off-Broadway production, you can have the pleasure of a reprise.
The cast is mostly the same, with a wonderful repeat of the performances by Tony Shalhoub as Tewfiq, the leader of the Egyptian band that winds up in the wrong Israeli town, and Katrina Lenk as Dina, proprietor of a small café. Their scenes together are beautiful, as they strike up an acquaintance with an undertone of romantic longing, expressed both through touching dialogue and song.
David Yazbek’s poignant music and lyrics are so very expressive, as in the infectious “Omar Sharif” that Dina hauntingly sings. The book by Itamar Moses is based on the screenplay by Eran Kolirin for the Israeli film that spawned this stage version. David Cromer directs, as he did for the off-Broadway production.
The plot involves a confusion of towns. It is 1996 and the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra of Egypt has been invited to give a performance at the Arab Cultural Center in Petah Tikva in Israel. But through a language error the group goes to Bet Hatikva instead. The arrival is very funny, as the locals of the sleepy little town don’t know what to make of this little group in band uniforms. But the newcomers, who are stranded for 24 hours before the earliest bus leaves, are graciously welcomed in various ways.
The charm of the show follows the odd interaction, especially between Dina and Tewfiq, and all is presented with sensitive understatement. This is a musical that gets under the skin. Band members include actual musicians--Osama Farouk, Sam Sadigursky, Harvey Valdes and Garo Yellin. After the curtain call, the full band is assembled on stage for a rousing encore to delight those who don’t rush out of the theater.
The theme of the show continues to be pertinent—the concept that Arabs and Jews can find a common ground if only the opportunity is seized. The step by step getting to know one another that the musical depicts becomes a statement illustrated by the show’s overall magical quality. (See Search under Theater for the off-Broadway review and under Film for the review of the movie.)
Scott Pask’s set design, including a revolving stage, enables a very free-flow of scenes. Especially effective numbers include Dina’s singing of “It Is What It Is” and Dina and Tewfiq teaming on “Something Different.” “The Band’s Visit” is definitely an award contender, both for the show itself, and for the lead performances. At the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, 243 West 47th Street, Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed November 10, 2017.