When I heard that the musical ‘The Band’s Visit’ was about an Egyptian Band’s visit to an Israeli town, I was admittedly apprehensive about how, if at all, it would handle the delicate topic of Arab-Israeli relations. I did not expect that such a beautiful story would unfold, a story which gently reminds us that despite our differences, we are all similar creatures at our core, who grapple with similar issues and who have the same desires.
The Band’s Visit, based on a little-known film with same name, follows an Egyptian Police Orchestra who are invited to play in an Arab Cultural Centre in Petah Tikvah (with a P) in Israel. However, they accidentally find themselves in a nearby desert town, with the very similar name of Bet Hatikva (with a B). A café owner welcomes the band to stay until the next bus arrives and they get to know the residents overnight.
The musical reminds me of what classic theatre is all about; creating and revealing a new world for audiences to be swept up by. I was surprised at how sparse the dialogue is at first and was unsure what was going to happen. There are no dramatic plot twists, rather you are slowly welcomed in and get to see these characters from contrasting worlds, converse and develop these unique relationships. Although there are tensions in the air at times, the subtle message which underpins the show concerns how we all want to love and feel love from others.
Our leads, Katrina Lenk as Dina and film star Sasson Gabay, who reprises his role as Tewfiq from the 2007 film, give great performances. Furthermore, the score by David Yazbek is breath-taking. I didn’t know that rich and expressive musical theatre scores like it are still being composed and performed live. The enticing Middle Eastern rhythms and melodies were a joy to listen to and not something you hear often on the Broadway stage.
My favourite number is Answer Me, led by a character titled the Telephone Guy, played by Adam Kantor. He has been standing by a public payphone for days on end in anticipation that his long-distance girlfriend will call him, without much success. He ardently sings about the love he feels and how he longs to hear from her again. As the song builds, there’s a moment where for the first time, the entire ensemble sing together in harmony. It was a stirring and beautiful moment which conveyed how the one thing that all the characters have in common is this need for connection with others.
This musical was a pleasant surprise. At face value, it’s not about much. But beneath the surface, there is so much depth and emotion. It’s no surprise that this show has received much critical acclaim, winning ten Tony Awards in 2018 including the award for Best Musical. I would say it’s a must-see show for any trip to Broadway.