BWW Review: THE BAND'S VISIT at Proctors Invites Audiences to Get Re-Acquainted With People We've Probably Never Met Before.
THE BAND'S VISIT is a relatively intimate, small scale musical devoid of grand sets, lavish costumes, dancers, and large chorus. With a cast of about twenty it is not as intimate as say The Fantasticks, but certainly not of the grand scale of Hamilton or Frozen, that preceded this production at Proctors.
The Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra has just arrived in Israel from Egypt. They are waiting in Tel Aviv's central bus station to be welcomed by a representative from a local Arab cultural organization, but no one shows up. The group's leader, Colonel Tewfiq Zakaria (played at this performance by Loren Lester), decides the group will take the bus and instructs the younger, adventurous officer,
Haled (Joe Joseph), to purchase the group's bus tickets. At the ticket office, Haled asks the clerk for tickets to the city of Petah Tikvah, but due to his Egyptian accent, she misunderstands him and sells him tickets to the isolated desert town of "Bet Hatikva".
The residents of Bet Hatikva, extol the boring and monotonous lives they lead in the desert in an amusing production number - "Waiting". When the band arrives, they encounter two cafe workers, Papi (Adam Gabay) and Itzik (Pomme Koch) and the café's owner, Dina (played at this performance by Bligh Voth). Tewfiq asks for directions before Dina realizes they think this is Petah Tikvah, and explains that they are in the wrong place, and have taken the wrong bus -"Welcome to Nowhere". Since the next bus does not arrive until the next day, Dina offers the band a meal and a place to stay for the night. In her kitchen, Tewfiq asks her about her background, and she tells how she was once married, but nothing in real life went as she had idealistically and naively thought - "It Is What It Is". She asks Tewfiq the same, and he tells her of a wife and son in Egypt. Itzik allows band member Simon to stay with him, his wife, their baby, and his father-in-law, Avrum.
Dina shares with Tewfiq how as a child she would listen to music on Egyptian radio stations, from the likes of Umm Kulthum, and movies starring Omar Sharif. Tewfiq quotes one of the movies and they bond over the shared memories in - "Omar Sharif". At the roller-skating rink, Haled observes Papi's awkward interaction with his date. After Papi defuses an altercation between Haled and a guard at the rink, Papi explains his romantic anxieties to Haled in a charming musical number - "Papi Hears the Ocean". Haled, in-turn provides guidance and wisdom in "Haled's Song About Love". Meanwhile, at his apartment, Itzik sings his son to sleep - "Itzik's Lullaby", where in frustration with his lack of ambition in life, his wife, Iris (Kendal Hartse) leaves. Simon is initially concerned, but Itzik tells him that this happens often, and she always returns. Soon, she does, and their son begins to cry. Simon soothes the infant by playing his clarinet.
Dina takes Tewfiq to the park where she asks him what it is like to have an orchestra and play music for people. He initially stutters, but after she asks him to sing, he begins to show her what it's like to be a conductor by allowing her to mimic his arm motions as he sings - "Itgara'a". Despite not being able to understand his Arabic lyrics, she remains mesmerized by him and wonders if his visit to Bet Hatikva was meant for her by fate -"Something Different". As the action plays out, the only pay
phone in town is guarded over, every night, by a man who obsessively waits for his girlfriend to call him, even though it has been months. Distraught, the 'telephone guy' (Mike Cefalo) questions his devotion to his loved one as he continues to wait by the pay phone. He and the citizens of Bet Hatikva long for the presence of a meaning to their lives as they anticipate the return to normalcy in - "Answer Me", a surprisingly delightful piece that evolves into a production number that proved to be one of my favorite moments of the evening.
THE BAND'S VISIT is a heartfelt, critically acclaimed (one of only four musicals in Broadway history to win the unofficial "Big Six" Tony Awards including Best Musical, Best Book, Best Score, Best Actor in a Musical, Best Actress in a Musical, and Best Direction of a Musical) of how the smallest moments can have the largest impact. The characters have unusual names and speak differently from "typical Americans" and those we typically see on our stages, but their story is both charming and delightful. It reminds us that as human beings we are far more alike than we are different. The National Tour of THE BAND'S VISIT plays Proctors in Schenectady through January 05, 2020. Visit: https://www.proctors.org/event/the-bands-visit/ for information and tickets.