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BWW Review: THE BAND'S VISIT at Shea's Buffalo

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A Bewitching Evening of Theatrical Magic

BWW Review: THE BAND'S VISIT at Shea's Buffalo A visiting Egyptian band loses their way and a small town is forever changed. It seems that THE BAND'S VISIT is the TONY Award winning musical that no one has heard of. But that changed last night when the luminous National tour opened at Shea's Buffalo Theatre. It was evident that most audience members had no idea what they were in for when the lights dimmed and the hour and four five minute, intermissionless production cast it's spell.

The 1996 story tells of the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra that takes the wrong bus and ends up in a town that never has visitors, let alone a group of 7 musicians all clad in their baby blue uniforms. The mix up is understandable given language barriers, and the group ends up in Bet Hatikva instead of Petah Tikvah. The members are stranded and must spend the night in the homes of a few locals, since there is no hotel. They land at a cafe run by Dina, an indifferent woman and former dancer who has been burned by much of life.

BWW Review: THE BAND'S VISIT at Shea's Buffalo

When the show opened on Broadway it was critically acclaimed, but it took a while for audiences to fall under it's spell. The cast is small, there are no large production numbers and the tone is often placid. The song "Welcome to Nowhere" sums up the emotions of it's citizens. Everyone longs for something different, bigger or just to be somewhere else.

The beauty of the story lies in how it is told with a minimum of dialogue, accentuating the language barriers, and how the score is interwoven with the plot. Musicians of the band pepper the stage, often adding atmospheric background music. But their individual instruments help to tell the story as they perform at times for their "host families." The action takes place in less than a 24 hour period, but in that time you are 100% drawn into the story.

Janet Dacal is mesmerizing as Dina. Physically beautiful, with a deadpan dry delivery, Dacal inhabits this fascinating character with elegance. Given Dina's background as a dance, Dacal's every movement is choreographed with subtlety. She houses the orchestra leader Tewfiq and trumpeter Haled for the night and becomes captivated by Tewfiq, played brilliantly by Sasson Gabay. Mr. Gabay has the distinction of playing the same role in the movie version, upon which the musical is based. He is a self confident man who hides his emotions and leads with authority.

Dacal and Gabay have a great energy together as polar opposites, bonding in a single night. When she sings of her fascination with Egyptians in "Omar Sharif" and he sings "Something Different" the two weave together in a delicate dance that is entrancing. Both have suffered major losses, and despite an age difference, they would make a beautiful couple in another life.

Joe Joseph as Haled is suave and comical, singing like an angel in "Haled's Song About Love." He is a perpetual charmer and Joseph gives a winning performance. The town is full of characters, including the super cool stud who likes to party and the Telephone Guy, played to comic effect by Joshua Grosso, who stands by a pay phone day and night waiting for his girlfriend to call.

Coby Getzug gets a great reception as Papi, the awkward young man who is unfamiliar with how to date a woman, as he sings "Papi Hears the Ocean." Clay Singer is the married man Itzik, who is out of work and raising a baby with his frustrated wife. Mr. Singer is excellent as he tries to let loose but has no focus to his existence. His family life is strained, but his father in law Avrum (David Studwell) shares his story of love at first sight with his deceased wife. Studwell commands the stage as he sings "The Beat of Your Heart," underscoring the musicality of falling in love.

Composer and Lyricist David Yazbek won a TONY Award for his score, full of Israeli motifs and fascinating lyrics. At times it's hard to believe he also wrote the score to TOOTSIE, which played here a few weeks ago, with it's bawdy lyrics and brash Broadway showtune style. Itamar Moses won a TONY Award for his book, that is a heartfelt telling of this compelling story.

Director David Cromer has taken great risks in telling the story through simple and introspective gestures. He understands the power of dramatic pauses and his direction is made even more powerful by Patrick McCollum's elegant choreography. McCollum's work is more a study in movement than true all out dances.

Scenic design by Scott Pask is identical to the Broadway set and works effortlessly as a turntable rotates to glide actors and set pieces along. The drabness of the town is evident throughout. The only downfall of the evening was being able to hear and sometimes understand some of the actors, given their heavy accents. Hopefully the sound will be tweaked a bit for future performances.

Simply put, THE BAND's VISIT is a bewitching evening of theatrical magic.

How To Get Tickets

THE BAND'S VISIT plays at Shea's Buffalo Theatre through November 14, 2021. Contact sheas.org for more information.


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