Broadway in Atlanta is presenting “The Band’s Visit” at the Fox Theatre, running through Sunday, Jan. 26.
“The Band’s Visit” opened on Broadway in November 2017 and ran for nearly 600 performances. It won an amazing ten Tony Awards, including the “Big Six”: Best Musical, Book, Score, Actor, Actress, and Director. The show is of four musicals in Broadway history to accomplish this feat.
Music and lyrics are by David Yasbek and book by Itamar Jones. Direction is by David Cromer; choreography by Patrick McCollum.
Despite all the big-time plaudits and critical acclaim, this is a “small” play: no huge chorus numbers, no major (as in well-known) stars, and no glitzy technical gimmickry to dazzle the eye. Yet, from the very beginning, the audience is riveted. Why?
We are presented with a slice of humanistic alchemy which subtly mesmerizes us; we soon realize we are looking at Everyman, Everywoman; we’re looking at ourselves, and we can’t look away.
Yet how unremarkable it seems—at first. A projected image in writing starts the play: “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 evening we understand something very different.
We’re in Bet Hatikva, a small Israeli town, an isolated desert town, where every day feels the same. But something unusual happens: The Alexandria (Egypt) Ceremonial Band, led by Tewfiq (Sasson Gabay) has taken a wrong turn and instead of Petah Tikvah, a larger Israeli town, they’re in this small village, looking like aliens in their uniforms. There are no buses leaving until the morning.
As you may know, Egyptians and Israelis often harbor a basic mistrust of one another. But here is where the magic begins: “The Band’s Visit” is about that underlying ocean that connects everybody and everything. As composer Yazbek says, the most important metaphor for that connection is music.
When the enchanting Dina (Janet Dacal) sings “Omar Sharif” for Tewfig (she performs it, really: such fluid movement, like a dancer), she not only hypnotizes Tewfig but also the audience. At this point, the show’s got us: There’s an exotic magnetism, impossible to describe, that emanates not only from her, but from everyone and everything.
Ben Brantley of The New York Times wrote that the play “flows with the grave and joyful insistence of life itself. All it asks is that you be quiet enough to hear the music in the murmurs, whispers, and silences of human existence at its most mundane—and transcendent.”
I’m not giving you the plot; here I must be a little mysterious. Nothing extraordinary happens, no grand love affairs, no intrigue, and certainly no violence. Yet there is eroticism among people who rarely make physical contact; a sense of occasion which proceeds out of the ordinary. A sense of nocturnal mystery envelops the whole evening; and subtle, human connections are made. The play shimmers with a sense of anticipation.
Yet there is also a touch of wackiness. For instance, there is the Telephone Guy (Mike Cefalo), who waits every night for the town’s one pay phone to ring (it’s 1996) so he can answer and speak to his long lost girl friend. Is he crazy? Or is he like the whole town who sings “Waiting,” the show’s first song. Are we not all waiting for something? By the way—the phone finally rings.
Full disclosure: I first saw “The Band’s Visit” on Broadway in 2018; I had a 6th row center seat (heaven). I was quite seduced by the show; being so close, I felt a part of it.
You and I know the the vast Fox Theatre is a different ball game; you just can’t have that kind of intimacy. Yet—and this is important—I still enjoyed it last night, and I think you will too. You know how we have talked about our love-hate affair with the fabulous Fox—enough said.
“The Band’s Visit” is a very special piece of musical theatre—I would add it to my repertoire. It didn’t win all those Tonys for nothing.
For tickets and information, visit foxtheatre.org.