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Review: THE BAND'S VISIT at Keller Auditorium

The production runs through January 9 at Keller Auditorium.

Review: THE BAND'S VISIT at Keller Auditorium

There's a song in THE BAND'S VISIT called "The Beat of Your Heart." It's about a couple falling in love in a dance club and how the rhythm of the music matched the beating of their hearts. I have to think that David Yazbek had this music-heartbeat relationship in mind when he wrote the music and lyrics for the show. The entire score - which IMO is one of the best new musical scores in the past decade - is precisely constructed to match the rhythm of your heart. It's irresistible.

THE BAND'S VISIT, which is currently on national tour and playing at Keller Auditorium, has won just about every theatre award there is, including 10 Tonys and a Grammy. (The cast also won an Emmy for a performance on Today - can a show win an EGOT?)

Compared to the typical Broadway fare, THE BAND'S VISIT is a very different kind of musical. On opening night, I was seated next to a woman who said she was "cautiously optimistic, but prepared to be disappointed." She had heard that it was fabulous, but the clips she'd seen had failed to impress. I imagine this might be a common experience - there are no falling chandeliers or helicopters or pyrotechnics or 40-person tap dance extravaganzas. There's no single "wow" moment. Instead, the show sneaks up on you - it's quiet and intimate, about the transformative power of music and of opening yourself to new experiences. No matter how you're feeling when you walk into the theatre, you will leave a full heart.

THE BAND'S VISIT opens with the members of an orchestra from Egypt standing in a bus station in Israel. They've been invited to play a concert in the cultural center of Petah Tikvah. When their welcome committee fails to show up, they decide to take a bus to their destination. But, due to their Egyptian accents, the ticket vendor gets the destination wrong and the band ends up in a??a??Bet Hatikva, a small town in the middle of the desert who's cultural life is summed up as "blah, blah, blah."

Over the course of a day and a night, the representatives of the two cultures learn to communicate, and the band's music along with the change in old routines awaken long-suppressed emotions and longings, particularly in Dina and Tewfiq, two people of a certain age with a shared love of movies starring Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum and Omar Sharif.

The ensemble, led by Janet Dacal as Dina and Loren Lester (the standby for Tewfiq who went on the night I went), is excellent. There's a lot of white space in the show - silent moments where communication happens via glances and facial expressions. I can see it being tempting to clobber these moments - we're not so used to silence, especially in a space as big as the Keller. But the cast resists that temptation, giving the words room to breathe and also heightening the impact when the music and emotions soar.

THE BAND'S VISIT is a gorgeous musical. It also seems fitting for right now, when life feels a bit delayed. I loved it, and, in case you're wondering, the cautiously optimistic woman next to me loved it too.

THE BAND'S VISIT runs through January 9 at Keller Auditorium. Details and tickets here: https://portland.broadway.com/shows/the-bands-visit/

Photo credit: Evan Zimmerman, MurphyMad



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