Review: Boston's Long Wait for THE BAND'S VISIT Rewarded With Great Production

Tony Award-winning musical runs through December 17 at the Huntington Theatre.

By: Nov. 27, 2023
Review: Boston's Long Wait for THE BAND'S VISIT Rewarded With Great Production

More than three years after its national tour – set to play Boston’s Citizens Bank Opera House in March 2020 – was shut down by the pandemic, “The Band’s Visit” is finally onstage in Boston in the form of a flawless co-production by the Huntington and SpeakEasy Stage, at the Huntington Theatre through December 17.

Based on the 2007 Israeli film of the same name, “The Band’s Visit” premiered off-Broadway at the Atlantic Theater Company in December 2016 before opening at Broadway’s Ethel Barrymore Theatre in November of the following year. With music and lyrics by David Yazbek and book by Itamar Moses, the show, based on a screenplay by Eran Kolirin, went on to win 10 Tony Awards in 2018, including Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, and Best Original Score, as well as a Daytime Emmy Award and the 2019 Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album.

In Moses’ moving book, about a border crossing mix-up that strands the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra in a remote Israeli village with no bus until the next day, “The Band’s Visit,” set in the Negev Desert in 1996, offers a captivating and wistful look at what unfolds when the residents of the small community take in the Egyptian travelers and find their lives intertwining.

Adroitly directed by Paul Daigneault, founding artistic director at SpeakEasy Stage, the production features a gifted cast anchored by Brian Thomas Abraham as the reserved Colonel Tewfiq Zakaria, whose quiet, commanding presence masks a wounded soul, and Jennifer Apple, who played Anna on the show’s first national tour, as the complex café owner Dina, who is both charming and fierce.

Tewfiq and Dina are very different people but the connection they make during their brief encounter is very real. This is demonstrated throughout by David Yazbek’s magnificent score, which weaves wondrously through the show like the finest gossamer. Indeed, there are several songs in the 90-minute one-act musical that will likely live forever in the hearts and minds of its audiences.

Chief among these is the exquisitely evocative “Omar Sharif,” in which Dina, her heart beginning to tug toward Tewfiq, shares memories of the way she once romanticized Egyptian culture.

Complementing Abraham and Apple are a first-rate company of actors, among whom are several local favorites including Marianna Bassham as Iris, a new mother likely afflicted with severe postpartum depression; Robert Saoud as Iris’s widowed father, Avrum; Jared Troilo as her loyal, loving husband, Itzik; Josephine Moshiri Elwood as a village wallflower, Julia; Jessi Garlick as the tremulous Papi; and Fady Demian as Papi’s friend, the more confident Zelger.

Others more than delivering on this show’s promise include Kareem Elsamadicy as the socially awkward trumpeter who turns to Chet Baker’s seminal recording of “My Funny Valentine” each and every time he is called upon to introduce himself to a woman. Emily Qualmann is terrific, too, as Zelger’s girlfriend, the you’d-better-not-get-in-her-way Anna.

And Noah Kieserman, achingly effective as the silent Telephone Guy, comes alive with hope and promise when the payphone finally rings for him, breaking through his single-minded focus to take center stage for the plaintive ballad “Answer Me,” which has other ensemble members chiming in with their own private wishes and dreams.

This production also features a very talented nine-member band of musicians, under the direction of José Delgado, and well done, culturally representative choreography by Daniel Pelzig, which even includes some very entertaining roller-rink footwork to Cher’s “Believe.”

Miranda Kau Giurleo’s well-turned-out costumes capture the characters and the period, while Wilson Chin and Jimmy Stubbs’ cleverly multi-purpose scenic design is shown off to full advantage by Aja M. Jackson’s mood-setting lighting design.

And while this is a story about Egyptians and Israelis getting along with each other, that often-charged topic is handled with great care here. The scent of apprehensiveness is definitely in the air at the outset, but no sides are taken and sensitivity and human kindness win the day.

Indeed, the statement “It wasn’t very important,” describing the story at both the beginning and the end, is a droll reminder that this is not a show about world events. It’s about the need to belong, to matter, and, if we are lucky, to be loved for who we are.

Photo caption: Jennifer Apple and Brian Thomas Abraham in a scene from “The Band’s Visit,” a co-production of the Huntington and SpeakEasy Stage Company. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.