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Interview: Joe Joseph of THE BAND'S VISIT at Hennepin Theatre Trust

Interview: Joe Joseph of THE BAND'S VISIT at Hennepin Theatre Trust Last week, a quiet, unusual show that happened to have won 10 Tony Awards last year, including Best Musical, took the Orpheum stage in Minneapolis for six brief days. It was not flashy, or loud, or maybe even a "crowd pleaser" in the traditional sense. But it was touching, introspective, and thoughtful in ways you don't often see in a national touring show.

This non-reviewer's perspective (which now after closing seems more like a musing) was it was just what we needed to see during this year of political "theater" loudly playing out in every outlet media every day, the hubbub of holidays and discord in too many parts of life. The moments of pure silence, quiet emotions, lovely, melodic music and touching relationships between strangers one night in Israel made THE BAND'S VISIT a welcome respite. At about 90 minutes, the well acted, expertly written, directed and designed musical hit all the right notes.

Speaking with several friends and colleagues, people seemed confused about what it was about, had not heard of it and generally were not sure if they should go. I can only guess it's because this musical was quietly doing it's own thing and not pushing out in-your-face marketing but relying on its Tony reputation to reach Midwest audiences that are generally regarded as sophisticated in theatre going. Maybe not so much but that's another story for another time (let's just say that theatre etiquette has nearly gone out the window and that's a sad state of affairs for another day).

Hoping this reaches audiences in the next cities down the line or perhaps fans who found the show worth further thought and study, posting an interview with a cast member after the show closed here is a chance we're taking because this show deserves more of a forum here, and actor Joe Joseph provides some additional insight that befits sharing here now.

If you are fortunate enough to be in a city that will welcome THE BAND'S VISIT on a remaining stop, give it a try and go in expecting that it's unexpectedly enjoyable if only you can accept the differences and look for the things in these characters that make people really all the same, no matter where we're from.

Joseph shared his viewpoints on the show and his character Haled just before moving on to the next stop on this first national tour in this 6 Questions & a Plug.

Most people I know who were going to the show said they had no idea what the show was about, and the descriptions are a bit vague. How do you tell people what THE BAND'S VISIT is about?

Joe Joseph: Plainly, "The Band's Visit" is a musical adaptation of a 2007 Israeli independent film about a group of musicians from Egypt who are waylaid in the middle of the Negev desert for an evening on their way to play a concert. But I'd say it's about souls. What we long for, lose and hold on to.

Your character, Haled, is described as a "confident & polished charmer," and your solo is one of the highlights of the show with it's romantic, swingy jazz melody. What's your favorite moment playing Haled, and why?

David Yazbek wrote a sly, spacey tune for Haled that functions as a primer on human attraction. He sings it in counterpoint to another character, Papi, (played by the monstrously talented Adam Gabay) who's just delivered the aural equivalent of a nervous breakdown. My favorite moment is just after I've warbled my last line and see that my song worked. Girl-meets-boy, anxiety melts away. Adam gives me this look of wonderment as his date roller-skates into his arms, the lights are sparkling, fading and all I can do is smile and shrug. The spell is cast.

That was a lovely moment. Overall, this show is more quiet, introspective and thoughtful than most Broadway shows, certainly the touring shows that play across the nation. What reactions are you getting from the audiences you encounter on this tour?

People are moved by the show. Some of them can't quite articulate why. I have my hypotheses. Most musicals these days are what I would call "entertainment for adult children." The themes are obvious, the morals and sentiments are sledgehammered home, and very little is asked of your imagination or intellect. "The Band's Visit" deals with isolation, loss and existential pain. It does so with an even hand. There is no gummed-up conflict or happy ending. It's also especially silly. I think that sense of empathy and resistance to sentimentalize the human experience allows "The Band's Visit" to touch a deep chord of longing that we all individually feel, then strike it in such a way that reminds us that we are never alone, even in our dimmest moments.

Just as many people are wondering where the screlting and kick-lines are at.

What do you want people to take with them after this show ends each night?

I hope that our show inspires people to investigate or at the very least acknowledge the incredible artistry and influence of the Arab world and the Middle East. I hope that they feel, if only for an hour and forty minutes, less alone in this life.

Did you have to learn to play trumpet (or other instruments) for this show, as I know you were the understudy for several parts on Broadway, too. Are most of the cast members musicians, as well?

While the trumpet is very shiny and exciting, I was more excited to learn to play the riq, which is a traditional tambourine from Egypt. I tracked one down during my time in Cairo before the tour started and I've been learning how to make it sing since we started rehearsals. It's deceptively tricky and fun.

Our cast is mixture of actors and musicians, some of whom have never been part of a musical. In my mind, the musicians are the soul of the show. The improvisation, virtuosity and wordless emotion they bring to it is what makes us soar.

The music was truly the heart of the show and I found myself wanting to hear more.

I usually end with a plug for future plans/work but you're on a national tour that's still happening, so do you have anything planned beyond the tour, or what would you like to take on in the future?

I'm thrilled to see the West coast, as I've never been. I'm looking to record some music soon. I've been a part of some projects in NYC that I'd love to see take off, and I always look forward to being back onstage in the city.

Joe Joseph bio: Broadway: THE BAND'S VISIT, Off-Broadway: Merrily We Roll Along, Loveless Texas, Baghdaddy, Genet Porno. Ads for Disaronno, Newport. Proud graduate of the University of Detroit Jesuit and the University of Michigan.


Photo: Joe Joseph (Haled), courtesy of Hennepin Theatre Trust

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