In the sweetly lyrical, captivating new musical, The Band’s Visit, the Egyptian musicians of the Alexandra Ceremonial Police Orchestra invited by the Arabic Cultural Center of one Israeli town end up, through a miscommunication, in the wrong locale in the middle of the Israeli desert. With no bus service until the following day, the group ends up stranded in the sleepy town with little money and options. Thus begins the 24-hour odyssey of the Arab entertainers as they become warmly and enchantingly intertwined with the lives of some of the residents.
The show, based on the 2007 film of the same name, focuses on three ongoing vignettes between some members of the band and the Israeli citizens. They are poignantly portrayed, sometimes amusingly and at other moments with deep wistfulness. What comes forth is how much alike people are, no matter what their background and beliefs.
As he has demonstrated throughout his theatrical career, composer David Yazbeck’s score is inventive and full of surprises. There is no full-throttled production number like “Great Big Stuff” from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels or “Jeanette's Showbiz Number” from The Full Monty or “Tangled” from Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. The songs form a gratifying whole that come across as more heartfelt and revealing with influences of Arabic and Klezmer music from beginning to end.
The cast is led by Tony Shaloub as Tewfiq who, at first, appears as a gruff, autocratic leader of the police orchestra. As the play progresses and the actor begin interacting with the residents, especially the beautiful and alluring Dina, he subtly begins to change, becoming more wistful and reminiscent under the desert moon. While not endowed with the most dynamic vocal chords he, nonetheless, suitably conveys his plaintive yearnings and passionate longings. Katrina Lenk has a lovely and seductive voice. She plays the shop owner, Dina, who is a tough, no-nonsense Israeli. As with Tewiq, she initially comes across as dispassionate and tough. But as the magic of the day progresses the actress becomes more absorbing and reflective, delivering a nuanced, fuller portrayal of a woman stuck in time with little options open to her. John Cariani is a little too over-the-top as the husband Itzik, whose man-child antics cause a seemingly irreconcilable riff in his marriage. Ari’el Stachel comes across, initially, as a lumbering, boorish Casanova as the trumpeter Haled. Yet, as with the other characters in the play, the actor deftly sidesteps our introductory thoughts and develops into a more ingratiating and charming person.
Director David Cromer plays up, at first, the drama caused by the sudden confluence of the two disparate groups. But as the wariness quickly dissipates he brings into focus the relationships that slowly develop among the denizens of the small town and the traveling troubadours. It’s the stories that draw the audience into the rhythms and flow of the action on stage. This is an intimate piece of theater and Mr. Cromer, smartly, does not incorporate any unnecessary embellishments.
Scott Pask’s scenic design of an austere, unadorned, rotating structure in the center of the stage reminds us of both the plainness and stark nature of the resident’s lives and that life is a circle that continually revolves. Sometimes we have the option of getting off, but other times the choice may just be fleeting.
The Band’s Visit, one of the more heartening and enjoyable new musicals this season.