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BWW Interview: Joe Joseph of THE BAND'S VISIT opens up about awards, Al Azhar and affect

BWW Interview: Joe Joseph of THE BAND'S VISIT opens up about awards, Al Azhar and affect

It's an offbeat, unexpected story about an Egyptian Police Band, lost in the Israeli desert, befriended by locals. It's a bona fide box-office smash, and one of the most Tony award-winning musicals of all time. But what you really need to know about THE BAND'S VISIT, coming to Houston's Hobby Center next week, is the way this show will make you feel.

I could try to explain how the music and message of this masterpiece resonates, but Joe Joseph (Haled) did so, perfectly, elegantly. Read on, and buy your tickets before they sell out. For this is one "simple story that sneaks into your soul," and stays.


THE BAND'S VISIT is one of the most Tony Award-winning musicals in history... but that's not nearly all in terms of accolades. It also won a Grammy and an Emmy (just an Oscar short of an EGOT), along with receiving the highest marks from the most discerning of critics. Does that mountain of success and accolades inform or impact your performance?

Awards are mostly used to sell things. That being said, I consider it my responsibility to preserve the grounded, generous work done by our creative team and the Broadway company. I was lucky to see the show in New York and even luckier to go on and join them late last year. I seek to honor the alchemy they made real.

THE BAND'S VISIT is aptly named; the production is about the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra's unexpected visit to a small town. Have you had any unexpected adventures of your own on tour?

Traveling the states has been a romp, but just before we began rehearsals, I took a trip to Egypt and Lebanon. There's nothing like the elegant chaos of Cairo. My friend and I arrived in Egypt on Uum Kulthum's birthday and the beginning of Ramadan. I'll never forget buying a riq (a traditional Egyptian tambourine) downtown, following a sweet Sudanese man down an alley into a storage space where frame drums and darboukas were stacked from floor to ceiling, all around me. Midnight soccer games outside Al Azhar, speeding down the coast in Alexandria, guzzling Turkish coffee, shisha on the Nile.

Please tell me about your background in theatre, and how your previous experiences brought you to the role of Haled.

I wasn't groomed for this business, but I grew up in a family that revered music and the arts. I never sang in public until my sophomore year of high school. I went on to study at the University of Michigan, where I had the opportunity to pursue many interests in addition to singing and acting. I spent some time working in the Detroit Metro area before slugging things out in NYC. I knew that if I wanted to get better (and be paid accordingly), I needed to put myself in the most competitive environment possible. It wasn't easy and I regret nothing. When I first saw The Band's Visit, I was floored by its restraint. I wanted to be a part of it and hustled to make that happen.

I have heard that you saw THE BAND'S VISIT on Broadway, and instantly felt a connection. Just a short time later, you are playing a principal role in the touring production. That's the stuff of vision boards and fantasies. Any advice to share?

So much of what feels essential in this business requires first-hand revelation. I can tell you things, but [until] you experience it, they remain words. Precaution aside, invest in yourself. Learn skills that suit you, and don't be easy on yourself. Stay curious in things that have nothing to do with theater. They will make you a more interesting human. Never assume to know anything more than anyone else. There will always be someone who can sing higher and kick faster than you. There'll be a new legion of fresh-faced kids every year to make you feel your age. People who execute skills are nice, but those who carve out their exact place in the atmosphere are the ones we gravitate towards. Nobody else is you.

BWW Interview: Joe Joseph of THE BAND'S VISIT opens up about awards, Al Azhar and affect
The company of The Band's Visit North American Tour. Photo by Evan Zimmerman, MurphyMade.

This is a show heralded for its message of humanism and love. Why does that matter to audiences? What is it about this show - at this moment in time - that is so compelling and important? Why does THE BAND'S VISIT resonate so deeply?

I think we live in a staggering time in which every special interest and unique calling is catered to in an endless void. The importance of communal experiences and physical space has diminished. It's not a good or bad thing, just different. The Band's Visit is a story about ordinary people's loves, losses and hopes. Pre-internet, pre-smartphone. Its formal innovations are restraint in sentiment and affect. That unfussed resistance to the established idiom of Broadway musical theatre - which relies on overstatement, melodrama, spectacle - is what allows this simple story to sneak right into people's souls. Music is the vessel.

BWW Interview: Joe Joseph of THE BAND'S VISIT opens up about awards, Al Azhar and affect
The company of The Band's Visit North American Tour. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

You play Haled, a young, adventurous officer in the band. What parts of Haled do you recognize in yourself?

Haled is a flirt, a sophisticate, a music-lover. I can relate. It's the role I made my Broadway debut with. I will never forget that afternoon.

Long after the tour is over, what about THE BAND'S VISIT will stay with you, forever?

Having the opportunity to sing a sexy David Yazbeck song in a dashing blue suit, as a young Arab guy whose life isn't defined by conflict, but by the contours of his soul, his voice, his love. Those things will stay.

You smashed your goal of being in this show - what's next for you? What challenges are ahead?

I'm looking forward to seeing the west coast for the first time. Recording some music. I'm always over-thinking the future, so I'm happy to enjoy the ride. The challenge is making our story happen for the first time, eight times a week. That's where the magic's at.


Catch Joe and the cast of THE BAND'S VISIT January 28-February 2 at the Hobby Center. For tickets and information, please visit https://houston.broadway.com/ or call 713-315-2400.


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