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Review: THE BAND'S VISIT at The Orpheum Theatre Memphis

On the Orpheum Stage through April 17th.

The Band's Visit"Once not long ago, a group of musicians came to Israel from Egypt. You probably didn't hear about it. It wasn't very important." To those who were there, however, it was a prominent shift in their lives.

The Band's Visit is an intimate 90 minute musical with no intermission, no big show-stopping numbers, and no "flash" as we say in show biz. It is a very real performance about a random moment in history, based on the 2007 Israeli film of the same name. At the Orpheum, we are used to huge ensemble numbers, flashy costumes, extraordinary lighting but The Band's Visit doesn't need all of that to make it great. The actors also often switch from English to other languages but one thing we learn is that music is universal and that it brings people together.

The show centers around an Egyptian ceremonial police orchestra who have been invited to play at the cultural center in Petah Tikvah. Due to a misunderstanding at the bus station, the orchestra finds itself in Bet Hatikva, which is an isolated desert town with almost nothing to do. The locals describe it as a place with no culture. Stranded in Bet Hatikva until the next day, the musicians are looking at a night on the streets until several of the locals offer a meal and a place to rest. Throughout the show, we see how the musicians' visit affect the locals' seemingly boring lives.

I overheard a man when I was leaving telling his wife, "well, it's no Hamilton or Frozen". He couldn't be more accurate. And yet, this musical won 10 of 11 awards at the 72nd Tony Awards and is one of four musicals in history to in the unofficial "Big Six" Tony Awards, which include Best Musical, Best Book, Best Score, Best Actor in a Musical, Best Actress in a Musical, and Best Direction of a Musical. It also won The Grammy Award in 2019 for Best Musical Theatre Album. President and CEO of the Orpheum Theatre Group, Brett Batterson, writes in the program about why the show is so special to him.

"The Orpheum is a member of the Independent Presenter's Network (IPN), a consortium of presenters of touring Broadway shows. Currently, IPN members present Broadway in 74 U.S. cities with a combined annual subscription base of over 573,000 patrons.

In addition to presenting Broadway in all these markets to all these people, IPN is a Co-Producer of new shows on Broadway. In fact, I invite you to look for our bio in New York City's Playbills the next time you visit the city. Past productions that IPN has helped bring to the stage include Spamalot, Dear Evan Hansen, and Memphis. Each IPN member gets to decide the new productions in which their theatre will participate. In 2018, I chose to put our resources into the The Band's Visit, which went on to win 10 Tony Awards."

The Band's Visit is very special to Memphis theatre lovers indeed!

Janet Dacal's Dina steals the spotlight as soon as she enters the scene. She is drawn to the conductor of the orchestra, Tewfiq, played by Sasson Gabay. Gabay actually portrayed the same character in the film as well as the 2019 touring production. In one of my favorite songs of the show "Itgara'a", Dina takes Tewfiq to a "park" which is just a bench in the middle of Bet Hatikva. However, Dina encourages Tewfiq to use his imagination and describes the park as she sees it. Tewfiq reveals a tragic past and begins to sing. The song is in Arabic so the audience does not necessarily understand the lyrics but it is a touching moment of how music can bring people to laughter and to tears.

I love seeing musicians play on stage, as I mentioned in my review of "Come From Away". There is something different and otherworldly about watching the musicians get lost in the music they are playing. The band's sweet melodies sweep us away and mesmerize us, just as they mesmerize the locals of Bet Hatikva. If you read the actors' bios in the Marquee, you will see that while some of them are new to acting, they are involved in orchestras or bands and have original music available.

I have to send a special shout out to the lighting and sound team on this production. The lighting design was simplistic yet beautiful. It helped tell the story and moved it along.

If you were there on opening night (Tuesday night) then you know we experienced some technical issues. As a "techie" in college, I learned firsthand just how much goes into putting on a production but most audience members tend to forget about the work going on backstage. After the curtain came down, the audience sat in the dark theatre until technical crew came onto the stage and explained there was a minor malfunction and the show would proceed momentarily. It did take some time to get everything working again but it was an excellent insight as to how much a show depends on technical aspects, such as sound. So huge kudos to the technical team for their stellar work, as well as the performers! I don't imagine it's easy to jump in and out of character in just a few minutes but the actors had us engaged as if nothing had ever happened.

All in all, The Band's Visit is a break from the "typical" musical. An intimate and telling story with lovely music and orchestrations, it transports the audience to a boring little town and lets us witness this seemingly insignificant event.

You probably didn't hear about it, it wasn't very important. But to Memphis, it's an important moment. Don't miss The Band's Visit, running now until April 17th!



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