Review: ‘The Band’s Visit’ Brings Musical Poetry to the Dolby Theater
A musical doesn’t need to make a lot of noise to dazzle. âThe Band’s Visit,â the extremely delicate Tony-winning show now having its Los Angeles premiere at the Dolby Theater, lightly crosses the stage in magical silence.
Based on the script by Israeli writer-director Eran Kolirin for his 2007 film of the same title, “The Band’s Visit” follows a group of Egyptian musicians who are stranded overnight in a sleepy desert town in Israel. Strangers in a suspect land, they don’t expect to be welcomed. But instead of enmity, they find hospitality – their differences filled first with courtesy, and later, as they get to know each other better, a dark humanity.
Composer and lyricist David Yazbek infuses Itamar Moses’ book with lyrical poetry. Discreetly speckled rather than spread out, the music provides a vehicle of shared expression for grief, desire and hope – a universal language that knows no boundaries.
The state-of-the-art Dolby, where production runs through December 19, is a perfect venue for a show that relies on silent clarity. The theatrical experience is pleasantly peaceful. Roomy enough to comfortably accommodate a crowd, Dolby’s crisp sound system and crisp lighting manage to feel intimate even from a distance.
And intimacy is essential for âThe Band’s Visitâ, a musical that travels slightly but deeply in the territory of the Chekhovans. The tone is playful, almost relaxed. But an essential truth about life is captured in the carefree stream.
The scene unfolds in a few sentences projected on stage at the start of the show: âNot so long ago, a group of musicians came from Egypt to Israel. You probably haven’t heard of it. It was not very important.
Insignificance, however, marks the majority of our days. And what doesn’t make the headlines is very important.
The Alexandria Police Ceremonial Orchestra, who has been invited to perform at an Arab cultural center in Petah Tikva, is confused by a pronunciation error. The group meet in Bet Hatikva, a fictional backwater that its own residents deem “boring”, “sterile” and “bland” in the tongue-in-cheek issue “Welcome to Nowhere”.
Dina (Janet Dacal), owner of a cafe, greets this troop of men with sudden perplexity. Tewfiq (Sasson Gabay, reprising the role he played in the film), the commander of the orchestra, asks with impeccable manners if he and his musicians can dine at his establishment. With a businesswoman’s shrug, she agrees.
Formality has no place in Bet Hatikva. âPick an embankment of your choice,â jokes Papi (Coby Getzug), one of the friendliest locals. But Dina is drawn to Tewfiq’s gravity and thinks he’s cute in his powder blue Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band jumpsuit. She offers to find bedrooms for the musicians after announcing that there were no more buses today.
The city is reluctant to open its doors, but Dina turns out to be as formidable a commander as Tewfiq. She divides men by taking Tewfiq and Haled (Joe Joseph), a young romantic trumpeter obsessed with Chet Baker, to her house.
Haled has reason to be nervous. It was his innocent lack of communication that got the group on the wrong bus. Tewfiq has made his impatience known with the dreamy-headed Haled. Haled, however, is like a puppy unable to stop chasing fun even after being hit with a newspaper.
Like in a Chekhov play, you don’t have to have a loaded plot for revelations to emerge. âThe Band’s Visitâ is based on the alchemy of unexpected encounters. Dina and Tewfiq, night ships that are not meant to be in the same waters, discover a common love for old Egyptian films, which Dina sings in a charming ode aptly called “Omar Sharif”.
The characters glimpse the souls of each other. The music opens the way by elevating the banal exchanges in a sudden sublime. In one of the most touching examples of this rise, Simon (James Rana), an aspiring clarinetist and conductor who stays with a husband and wife (played by Clay Singer and Kendal Hartse) in trouble conjugal, soothes their crying baby with a few notes from his instrument.
Peace breaks out in this tumultuous house, and suddenly all the accumulated resentments no longer seem so important. Simon couldn’t finish the concerto he started writing a long time ago, but his art did its job to alleviate daily suffering.
The unsaid hangs between Dacal’s Dina and Gabay’s Tewfiq as they share a drink in the evening air. Affectionate melancholy fills in the gaps in what they have time to say.
Joseph’s Haled exudes a sensual pleasure, made all the more precious by his conscience as his youthful days of freedom are drawing to a close. The eclectic mix of musical styles – traditional Arabic, klezmer and jazz, among them – reinforces the subtle emotional chemistry of the cast.
David Cromer’s fluid production swings from home decor cafe to a roller-coaster nightclub, all the while keeping an eye out for a phone booth, where a sad-looking guy (Joshua Grosso) is eternally waiting for a call from his girlfriend. that never seems to come.
Scott Pask’s stage design has the same casual quality as the show itself. The decorations are sketched with a simplicity which is more like a diagram than a photograph. However, the moonlit atmosphere gives this elsewhere a bewitching individuality.
In a time when everyone seems so angry, conflicts seem intractable and fellowship more at hand, âThe Band’s Visitâ is like balm for a weary mind. The musical touched me deeply when I saw it on Broadway in 2017, but after such a long time away from the theater, I found the show even more deeply moving.
Operating on a more subtle Broadway frequency than usual, Yazbek and Moses’ musical drama invites us to transcend our divisions. I hadn’t realized how much I needed “The Band’s Visit”, but this giveaway of a show arrived just in time.
“The group’s visit”
Where: Dolby Theater, 6801 Hollywood Blvd., LA
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday to Friday, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday, 1 p.m. and 6.30 p.m. Sunday. Ends December 19
Tickets: Starting at $ 30 (subject to change)
Contact: 1-800-982-2787 or BroadwayInHollywood.com or Ticketmaster.com
Duration: 1 hour 40 minutes
Also Segerstrom Center for the Arts from March 22 to April 3 on scfta.org