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BWW Review: THE BAND'S VISIT at The Kennedy Center – A Magical Musical Full of Heart

BWW Review: THE BAND'S VISIT at The Kennedy Center – A Magical Musical Full of Heart

I really enjoyed the Eran Kolirin's 2007 Israeli-Egyptian film "The Band's Visit" . The story involved the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra who get lost in Israel on their way to a concert performance at the Arab Cultural Center in a large city named Petal Tikvah and instead the bus they take arrives at the small town of Bet Hatikva. With the next bus not due until the next day, the musicians are invited to spend the night with the town natives (there is no hotel) and have dinner. The moving film tackles the subject of Egyptians and Israelis in 1996 who in 1967 had a hard-fought war on the Sinai Peninsula.

I was reminded of another story about these two nations that turned into a musical, JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT.

One has to credit Lead Producer Orin Wolf (who brilliantly brought the Irish film "Once" to the Broadway stage) for imagining THE BAND'S VISIT as a musical. His success can be seen after winning 10 2018 Tony Awards including Best Musical.

He also deserves credit for getting Composer and Lyricist David Yazback to tackle the music. I am a huge fan having seen all his Broadway musicals: THE FULL MONTY, DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS, WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN, and his current hit on Broadway, TOOTSIE.

I was fortunate to see the Original Broadway Cast which included Tony Shaloub and Katrina Lenk (who I just saw perform at Town Hall with Jason Robert Brown and Stephen Sondheim), Ariel Stachel, John Cariani, and Adam Kantor (who joined later).

Thankfully, thanks to Tara Rubin Casting, this tour truly is as good as the cast on Broadway. Israeli film star Sasson Gabay played the leading role of Colonel Tewfiq in the film who conducts the orchestra and luckily he replaced Tony Shaloub on Broadway and is now playing the role on the tour. What a treat it is to seem him live on stage. He enjoys having his son Adam in the cast playing the role of "Papi" who works at Dina's café and has some great music to sing, "Welcome to Nowhere", "Haled's Song About Love" and his big solo "Papa Hears the Ocean".

How does one replace the remarkable Katrina Lenk as "Dina", the owner of the Cafe in Bet Hatikva? Thankfully, Chilin Kennedy (who starred in WAITRESS on Broadway) is just plain phenomenal. I did not realize on my first viewing of the play, "Dina" was a dancer. This explains the wonderful use of her arms that sometimes seem like she is sailing. There are so many occasions that she is mesmerizing, especially in her duets with Tewfiq.

She excels in her rendition of the song "Omar Sharif" in which she recalls her love of the Egypitian film stars Oum Kalthoum and Omar Sharif (born in Alexandria).

Pomme Koch plays "Itzik" a henpecked husband to "Iris" (Kendal Hartse) and father and shares the beautiful songs "Welcome to Nowhere", "The Beat of Your Heart" and the lovely "Itzik's Lullaby" along with the Egyptian "Camal" (Ronnie Malley). "Iris" father "Avrum" (David Studwell) is a musician and resells his story of how he met his late departed wife while he was performing in a band "The Beat Of Your Heart". I loved how the lyric incorporates musical language:

"Love sparks on the upbeat, Igniting with a minor ninth, Resolving to a major six, Then something clicks, and everything starts..."

Just before this number, "Simon", "Camal", "Avram", and "Itzik" spontaneously sing the lyrics from PORGY AND BESS' "Summertime" together. It demonstrates how much they have in common.

"Haled" is played by the fabulous Joe Joseph. He's a real charmer. He's a ladies' man and every time he sees a woman, he talks about the great jazz trumpet player Chet Baker. He does get a chance to play "Summertime". He attempts to help "Papi" get to know a young girl at a roller-skating rink with the lovely jazz number "Haled's Song About Love" which helped Ari'el Stachel win the Tony Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Musical. Joseph nails this number.

The show opens with "The Telephone Guy" standing next to a pay phone who is waiting for his girlfriend to call him at the town's pay phone. He's a dedicated romantic. He and the cast open the show with "Waiting". As "Avram" sings "Sometimes it feels like we're moving in a circle" he rides a clever turntable around the set, the audience laughs.

Scott Pask did the wonderful Set Design.

Now to the "Telephone Guy". Mike Cefalo is making his Broadway tour debut spending most of the time...well, waiting by the phone booth. At the end of the show, Cefalo is rewarded with a solo, a brilliant and moving balled, "Answer Me" and you get goose bumps with the entire cast joins him towards the end of the number. Remember the name Cefalo. He has a great future ahead of him.

Tamar Moses is credited with the simple but wonderful book based on the Eran Kolirin original screenplay.

Sarah Laux did the wonderful costumes.

Director David Cromer does a masterful job pulling this all together.

Tyler Micoleau does the Lighting and he deserves the Tony Award he received. I just loved his use of shadows.

Kai Harada deservedly won the Tony for Sound Design.

Rick Bertone conducts the superb ten member band who are often on stage. The unusual instruments include the oud (a pear shapedstringed instrument) and the darbuka (a goblet-shaped drum) usually made of clay with goat skin stretched over the top.

The end of the show features the seven piece band in the light blue uniforms. The Kennedy Center audience exploded with well-deserved cheers.

I highly recommend the CD. Yazbek's music weaves jazz ballads and middle-eastern music beautifully.

I bought the book of the play at the Kennedy Center bookstore for $15. The souvenir stand in the lobby had it for $30.

THE BAND'S VISIT continues until August 4, 2019. For tickets, call 202-467-4600 or visit www. Visit

If you miss it or want to see it again, the show comes to Baltimore's Hippodrome Theatre on March 7, 2020.

ALADDIN comes next at the Opera House July 18 to September 7, 2019 followed by DEAR EVAN HANSEN at the Eisenhower from August 6 to September 8.

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From This Author Charles Shubow