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Review: THE BAND'S VISIT at The Fisher Theatre is a Love Letter to Middle Eastern Music and Culture

See the modern classic at the Fisher Theatre through May 1st.

The Band's Visit
Janet Dacal (Dina) and Sasson Gabay (Tewfiq)
Photo by Evan Zimmerman

Now playing the Fisher Theatre through May 1st, recent Tony Award darling The Band's Visit is a musical with a lot of heart and a deeply ingrained mission to unify cultures, rather than divide. Having won 10 Tony Awards in 2018, including Best Musical, you will be inclined to go into this musical with high expectations. While I'm not saying that you shouldn't have high expectations, you should know that the genius of The Band's Visit lies not in flashy musical numbers or costumes, but in the honest (and modest) storytelling.

The Band's Visit is based on a 2007 Israeli film of the same name. Both entities surround what happens when an Egyptian band (known as the "Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra") comes to the completely wrong Israeli town. Instead of arriving in Petah Tikva for the opening of the local Arabic culture center, they instead end up in the small, bland town of Bet Hatikva (a mistake anyone could make, if Bet Hatikva was an actual place). Over the course of one day, the local Israelis and the visiting Egyptians get to know one another, well beyond their cultural differences.

Being Jewish myself and having written once before about the significance of The Band's Visit, I've been looking forward to seeing this musical for 4 years now. The 90-minute show did not disappoint. The music that's great on the cast album is phenomenal in person, and the ethnic blend of cast members helped sell the story all the more. While the lack of conflict may hinder the plot in that it doesn't move as fast as modern audiences may appreciate, it also sells you on one of the most significant points of the show: Bet Hatikva is a place where not much happens.

Among the many treats of The Band's Visit is having the opportunity to see acclaimed Israeli actor Sasson Gabay reprise his role from the movie. He plays Tewfiq, the conductor of the band, both in the original 2007 movie and on Broadway, and now on the national tour coming through Detroit. He performs the role as authoritative, yet vulnerable when the story calls for it, and though he doesn't sing all too much, Gabay's seasoned stage presence brings all the more authenticity to the script.

The other lead of The Band's Visit, Janet Dacal, is also a triumph as Dina, one of the local Israelis who owns a cafe. Dacal's Dina is sharp and desensitized to the dullness of Bet Hatikva, though this facade is brought down through her interactions with the Gabay's Tewfiq. The climax of Dacal's performance comes in the form of the song "Omar Sharif," where her character shares her family's experiences with Egyptian media as a child. On its own the song is beautiful, but Dacal brings a particular quality to the song that makes it all the more poignant.

As previously mentioned, one of the major highlights of the show is the music. In terms of songs, favorites include "Omar Sharif" (by Dacal's Dina), "Papi Hears the Ocean" (by Coby Getzug's Papi), "Haled's Song About Love" (by Joe Joseph's Haled), "Itzik's Lullaby" (by Clay Singer's Itzik), and "Answer Me" (primarily by Joshua Grosso's Telephone Guy, but also the whole ensemble). Also of note is the band, who plays Klezmer-influenced Arabic classical music throughout the show and at the end, after the curtain call. Pure ear candy, the music of The Band's Visit alone is worth the price of admission.

Unconventional and understated, The Band's Visit proves itself to be a powerful piece of a theatre that redefines cultural appreciation. While it takes some time to get off the ground, The Band's Visit quickly picks up as audiences learn about the characters and their growing relationships. What's more, the spectacle of seeing two cultures historically known for clashing in a context where they enjoy each other's company is something you just don't see everyday in modern media. And for that, The Band's Visit is a rousing success.


For more information or to buy tickets to The Band's Visit, visit broadwayindetroit.com, call 800-982-2787, or visit the Fisher Theatre in Detroit.

To keep updated with The Band's Visit, head over to their website at thebandsvisitmusical.com or follow them on Twitter at @TheBandsVisit, on Instagram at @thebandsvisit, and on Facebook at facebook.com/TheBandsVisit.



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From This Author - Stefani Chudnow

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