BWW Review: Stunning THE BAND'S VISIT at Providence Performing Arts Center
My favorite writing professor loved to say that there are two stories the world: one, a person sets off on a journey; in the other, a stranger comes to town. The second story is precisely the idea behind the 10 Tony Award winning THE BAND'S VISIT. The Egyptian Police Band is on tour, and through a simple language mixup, they wind up in a small town in the Isreali desert . With no way to leave town until the morning, and no hotels available, the police are taken into locals' homes where they start to see into the lives of the people of the village. This is an atypical Broadway musical in that it's very quiet and seemingly simple, but does a fantastic job of showing the struggles of ordinary people, and how two seemingly different groups of people have a lot in common after all.
The performances in this show are subtle but compelling. Dina (Chilina Kennedy), the owner of the cafe where the police band find themselves, and Tewfiq (Sasson Gabay, the head of the police band, have the two main roles. The two of them have an interesting dynamic. Dina is a very no-nonsense business woman, and Tewfiq is a quiet man who is used to having total authority. But as they interact more, Dina starts to soften toward him, and find a comfort in his quiet confidence. Sasson Gabay also played the role of Twefiq in the film version of The Band's Visit, and it's clear that he is 100% comfortable in this character's skin. He manages to keep your attention, even when he's not speaking, which is a rare skill.
Chilina Kennedy has an outstanding voice and a tremendous range of emotions for her character, which she handles effortlessly. Other ancillary characters have small arcs like Telephone Guy (Mike Cefalo) who waits all day by the village payphone for his girlfriend to call. Each of the police band members stays with a different family in the village, so we get to see family and social dynamics at play, while also watching them react to having a stranger in their home.
In addition to solid performances across the board, the scenic design by Scott Pask is among the best this reviewer has ever seen. The stage has two rotating circles upon which sets are placed and actors move. What this does is allow sets to move in and out in such a way that it makes you feel like you're just walking through the village. It also allows some action to move to the front, while leaving other actors/sets in the background but still visible. It seems like a simple thing, but it works so well and seamlessly that it creates a wonderful flow of movement that's almost dancelike to the production.
One frustration with this touring production is that since this is such a quiet and intimate show, setting it in a venue as large as PPAC makes it harder to connect with the characters and story. There are many long pauses and meaningful glances that are completely lost on the people in the balcony. Add to that the fact that all of the characters have accents and the audio was frequently garbled or overly quiet, a lot of the plot points were lost.
Regardless of a few hiccups, this is a unique story that is not only interesting, but also serves as a reminder that people who are very different from one another culturally, usually have more in common than it would initially seem. The music is incredibly beautiful, and the show concludes with a performance by The Egyptian Police Band which showcases even more of the talented cast's skills.
The Band's Visit is at Providence Performing Arts Center June 25-30. Tickets are available at ppacri.com or at the box office 220 Weybosset St Providence, Rhode Island 02903 • (401) 421 - ARTS (2787)