THE GROUP VISIT to the Dolby Theater


It’s one of the most common themes of Broadway musicals: A culturally stagnant city is rejuvenated when a stranger arrives on the scene, affecting everyone in the process. You have seen this device on shows such as The Music Man, 110 In the Shade, Footloose, and The sound of music, to name a few. But never has this formula worked better than The group’s visit, the Tony Award-winning musical about a misguided Egyptian band who arrive in a culturally desolate Israeli town to magically revive its people with the power of love and music. The show’s nationwide tour, which began performing on Off-Broadway in 2016, arrived in Los Angeles on November 30 for a three-week period at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood. We were there to see it and also to attend a special event the next day at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel which featured interviews with four of the cast from the series as well as to hear the extraordinary group of musicians perform on stage at the series.

The group’s visit was an unlikely 2018 Tony winner for Best Musical because it’s truly anti-musical. There are no exciting production numbers, no acts of violence, no sweeping romances, and no real conflict. It’s just a calm show with an underlying premise that emphasizes people communicating on a personal level without the interference of boundaries, whether geopolitical or cultural. Who would have thought that a story featuring characters from long-standing opposing factions like Egypt and Israel would not only be devoid of political and cultural conflicts, but one that showed they had more in common than they had in common? of differences? The group’s visit goes back to the kind of shows that Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt used to write, like The Fantastic and 110 in the shade, each of which featured the same elements of magic and warmth, little shows about people and their relationships, without resorting to typography.

The recent passing of Stephen Sondheim still hangs over the Broadway world like a shroud, which made The group’s visit a show that exemplifies Sondheim’s original thinking on what made a Broadway musical effective and special. Based on the script by Eran Kolirin from 2007, the story tells about the Ceremonial Police Orchestra of Alexandria, a traveling group of Egyptian musicians, who are stranded in a Tel Aviv bus station when neither their cultural attaché nor their cultural attaché their chartered bus did show up. As a result, the conductor of the orchestra, Colonel Tewfiq Zakaria, decides to take a public bus to their destination, the city of Petah Tikvah, but due to a bad hearing by the ticket clerk at the bus station, they end up in the isolated village of Bet Hatikva, where they are forced to stay overnight until the next bus arrives the next morning. Thanks to the efforts of Dina, a friendly cafe owner, the group members are greeted as overnight guests by the other cafe patrons.

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The company of The group’s visit (Photo by Evan Zimmerman, MurphyMade)

The idea of ​​stranded travelers being looked after by hospitalized foreigners in a foreign city has been used more recently in Come from afar, another Tony-Award winning musical, but in The group’s visit, visitors have the most impact on their hosts rather than the other way around.

Sasson Gabay, originally the role of Tewfiq in the 2007 film, returned to play the role in the musical and gives a deeply moving performance. During the press conference, Gabay, who was born in Iraq but raised in Israel, told us, “In a way, this character was with me all the time. We did it in 2007 and it was very acclaimed; we have won many festivals. and awards, so it changed my career a bit. In a way, it accompanied me, this role. In 2010, the producer of the musical approached me about doing it on Broadway, which to me was a crazy idea, but I politely said yes (laughs). After eight years they produced it and I was so curious how they could make a musical out of it. The film was so human, on a tiny budget – and I was really amazed at how much they could take that delicate film and turn it into a delicate musical, which is not a typical Broadway musical. . Everything works with the same aroma from the movie. Of course, I had matured over those years, as a person and as an actor, and I think I bring more weight to the character than when I was younger. “

In the role of Dina in the national tour, Janet Dacal, an extraordinarily beautiful actress of Cuban origin who combines the sensuality of the Brazilian star Sonia Braga with a ravishing, purring soprano that resembles that of the late Eartha Kitt. “Dina’s meeting with Tewfiq has been something she has aspired to for a very long time, an authentic, real and human exchange,” Dacal told VC On Stage. “It’s more than a physical connection, it’s intellectual. So because of that, she can be seen in a way that she hasn’t been seen by the people of her own city.”

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Sasson Gabay (Tewfiq) and Janet Dacal (Dina) (Photo by Evan Zimmerman, MurphyMade)

During their evening together, Dina and Tewfiq share an affinity for Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum and actor Omar Sharif (in the enchanting song “Omar Sharif”), with Tewfiq sparking a fond memory that Dina has not thought of since. a long time. “Because of this unexpected exchange, she’s starting to open up,” Dacal said.

In the show, the villagers of Bet Hatikva have lost their own traditions, their cultural life is now enveloped in all that is American. The town’s main recreational activity is an ice rink, in which skaters skate on a disco version of Bobby Hebb’s 1967 hit, “Sunny.” Other American pop songs are featured in scenes, such as “Summertime” by Porgy and Bess and “My Funny Valentine” by Rodgers and Hart. But scene after scene, the members of the Egyptian orchestra help bring the indigenous musical culture back to the city, which has a healing effect on their problems, healing a married couple (Clay Singer and Kendal Hartse), a shy young man ( Coby Getzug) is afraid to approach a girl he loves, a crying baby who won’t fall asleep, another young man (Joshua Grosso) who has been waiting for months on a pay phone for his girlfriend to have him. calls, and most importantly, cafe owner Dina (Dacal), who is desperately looking for a human connection, which she finally finds in Tewfiq.

“I think the whole play is magical,” Janet Dacal told us. “When you allow yourself to experience something different and new, you don’t know how it can affect you, and that’s what happens on this evening. they may not have opened up and it triggers something in them that may seem very small and small, but it is deep. “

In turn, Dina’s effect on Tewfiq also triggers an emotional release in him, revealing very traumatic events in his own life that have left him detached and emotionally resistant. The connection between the two occurs in an extraordinarily beautiful moment in a local “park” (actually just a bench placed in the desert), in which he shows her how he conducts his orchestra and she mimics his arm movements.

If the very human story described in The group’s visit can be seen as a painting, the orchestra on stage serves as the color palette with which it is painted. The music played by the members of the seven-piece group on stage, which includes conventional orchestral instruments like clarinet, cello and violin, combined with Arabic instruments like the twelve-string oud and the crisp percussion of the darbouka bongo-type, float in and out of each scene, appearing either at the periphery to accentuate the dialogue, or in interludes between scenes. Even the group’s powder-blue uniforms, which one villager compares to “Sgt. Pepper ”by The Beatles, brighten up the drab desert hamlet.

The songs, composed by David Yazbek (The full Monty, the dirty rotten scoundrels) are exceptionally beautiful and are written to allow orchestra members to improvise, using traditional Middle Eastern tropes that give the show its rich atmosphere.

The cast includes Coby Getzug, from Ventura County, who plays Papi, a cafe worker who learns to overcome his anxiety about women with the help of band member Haled (Joe Joseph), in a touching and funny scene at the rink. Getzug opened up about his character, saying, “I think there is something really beautiful about choosing to connect, even though it might be easier to pull out. I think there is beauty. in the simple act of leaning forward instead of leaning. “

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Joe Joseph (as Haled) (Photo by Evan Zimmerman, MurphyMade)

“Thinking ahead” is one of the dominant themes of the series, both for its characters and for the audience. Due to the show’s understated, funny humor and the deliberate nature of the dialogue, audience members are drawn into the intimate atmosphere of this calm and deep show in a way that, in fact, reduces the size of the theater to that of the Off-Broadway theater. where it started.

The other main attribute of The group’s visit is its uniqueness as a particularly engaging musical, deliciously different in its history and music, while delivering a message of unity, love and humanity that gives hope to an increasingly political world and polarized. As Dina sings in “Something Different”, “Nothing is as beautiful as something you don’t expect”. The group’s visit shows the effect of these lyrics not only on the villagers of Bet Hatikva, but on all who see this enchanting musical.

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Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra performs (Photo by Evan Zimmerman, MurphyMade)

The group’s visit plays until December 19 at the Dolby Theater, 6801 Hollywood Blvd. at Hollywood. For tickets, visit www.ticketmaster.com.

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