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BWW Review: A Visually Stunning THE BAND'S VISIT Makes a Stop at Straz Center For The Performing Arts

WINNER OF 10 TONY AWARDS INCLUDING BEST MUSICAL. ONSTAGE THROUGH SUNDAY MAY 8TH. JANET DACAL AND COMPANY SHOULD NOT BE MISSED.

BWW Review: A Visually Stunning THE BAND'S VISIT Makes a Stop at Straz Center For The Performing Arts

"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."- Dina

The Band's Visit is a musical with music and lyrics by David Yazbek and a book by Itamar Moses. The new musical opened at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre in 2017 following its off-Broadway premiere at the Atlantic Theatre in 2016. Winning Best Musical at the 72nd Annual Tony Awards, The Band's Visit became one of four musicals in Broadway's history to win what is considered "The Big Six" at the Tony's. Those six are Best Musical, Best Score, Best Book, Best Actor in a Musical, Best Actress in a Musical, and Best Direction of a Musical. The Broadway production was directed by David Cromer. After the closing of the Broadway production in 2019, The Band's Visit transferred to its First National Tour beginning with a stop in Providence, Rhode Island in June of 2019.

At its opening, the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra has just arrived in Israel and is waiting at the bus station. The Egyptian men are waiting at the bus station for the arrival of representatives from the Arab Embassy, yet no one shows. The group's leader Tewfiq decides they will take a bus to the location they are meant to travel to, and sends Haled to purchase tickets for the men at the ticket booth. However, his strong Egyptian accent is misconstrued and the men who should be traveling to Petah Tikvah, end up arriving in Bet Hatikva, an isolated desert town in the middle of nowhere, and so begins our tale.

Upon arriving in Bet Hatikva the men meet locals who are explain to them about their lives and how monotonous and boring the average day to day tends to be. The men meet a beguiling and interesting woman in Dina who runs a local cafe. She offers them food to eat and a place to stay as they attempt to reach the Embassy and await a bus out of town. You see the Orchestra is to a give a concert the following evening in Petah Tikvah. Tewfiq talks to Dina of his life, his deceased wife and the unfortunate suicide of his son.

At its heart The Band's Visit is a comedy of human emotion and proportions. Simple in its story often not leading a linear plotline, the story itself is essentially a fable with no real meaning behind it. But in its nature, we see the human spirit in its full capacity in a time where two worlds riddled by war come together in the most unlikely of circumstances. Best described by Dana Schwartz, from Entertainment Weekly,

"The Band's Visit is a sweet, haunting stopover in the desert... This is a play about waiting, and loneliness, and the human need to connect with another human... There are no elaborately choreographed dance sequences or dramatic betrayals or plot twists. The only revelation is that there are no revelations; that humans and their petty, internal concerns. their hopes and failures, are worthy enough to sing about..."

From top to bottom this cast exquisitely delivers this human-conditioned driven tale with sheer grace and elegance. As Dina, Janet Dacal is alluring, beguiling, and charismatic. You can sense that she is a woman of the world and yet in her heart all she knows is Bet Hatikva. Her delivery during "Omar Sharif," and "Something Different," is exceptional. Her vocals stand out and make you take notice with every graceful note. You feel something stir in your heart every time Janet sings, and her Dina is perfection.

As Telephone Guy, Joshua Grosso's voice reaches new heights. For me this is the hardest role in the Company. To stand silent staring at the phone, only to be reactive in certain moments, makes this a tour de force moment. His rendition of "Answer Me" is one of the most beautiful moments of the evening.

As Tewfiq, Sasson Gabay is a General in every sense of the word. His moments with Dina are wonderful to watch, and their duet "Something Different" is a moment you never want to turn away from. Giving Tony Shalhoub a run for his money, Sasson Gabay should be proud of his work here.

As the comic relief, Papi, Coby Getzug is wonderful here. His rendition of "Papi Hears the Ocean," is hilarious to watch. You sense the nervous energy in his want to be closer to girls, and this is a great moment of comedic timing.

Haled, played exceptionally well by Joe Joseph is great to watch. Every time he brings up Chet Baker until he finally plays "My Funny Valentine," is mere perfection. Each time Haled gets himself into a mixed-up situation you want to watch what is going to happen next.

The rest of the Company as a whole delivers a truly human experience and should be commended for their work. Clay Singer (Itzik), Yoni Abi Battat (Camal), Kendal Hartse (Iris), David Studwell (Avrum), Billy Cohen (Zelger), Layan Elwazani (Julia), Marc Ginsburg (Sammy), James Rana (Simon), Ariel Reich (Anna), The Band: Yoni Avi Battat, Roger Kashou, Brian Krock, Kane Mathis, and Wick Simmons.

Technically beautiful The Band's Visit is exquisite not just in music both vocally and instrumentally, but visually stunning as well. The Set Design, Lighting, and Costuming blend seamlessly together and transport us to another place and time. We as the audience are completely encompassed in the story and the world in which these characters reside. I will go on record to say there is nary a show more beautiful in concept, design, story, and music than The Band's Visit.

As I sat and processed everything I saw and experienced in its short 90 minutes, The Band's Visit completely took my breath away. From each scene change to the next beautiful melodic sequence this Tony Award-winning musical has it all. I think that is what makes an unconventional musical such as this so relevant and current today. As the years go on, and days go by shifting us further into a new world climate in which we are all still trying to navigate, one thing that has been lost above all is patience and human decency. Gone are the days of humans helping humans, and coming together to withstand a storm. In The Band's Visit, we see an unfortunate circumstance, and unlikely mistake turn into a moment of courtesy and hospitality. Two groups of people both from worlds riddled by war come together to learn more about one another. Michael Schulman of the New Yorker says it best,

"In The Band's Visit, we get to see the glorious nothingness of an uneventful night in the middle of nowhere... It is a show about nothing, but it fills the stage with feeling--- the muted kind that dwells in missed connections."

If you do one thing this Mother's Day weekend, you need to treat Mom and everyone in your family to the truly human story that lies not only on the surface but deep within the story presented in The Band's Visit. You may throw your hands up at the end, and say, "What the heck happened," but in its inherent sweetness is a story derived from the depths of our human condition, something I feel a lot of people has lost touch of. For in this connection whether missed or grounded, we find love, peace, friendship, camaraderie, and above all, that we are all inherently human. Charles McNulty, of the Los Angeles Times, brings it further into perspective,

"...In the company of strangers, the characters begin to see themselves anew. The sacred honor of hospitality compels patience and presence, but it's music that ultimately dismantles barriers...At a time when politics is dividing us not only from each other but also from ourselves, The Band's Visit offers balm for the breach in our souls."

I for one can state that no truer statement has ever been uttered. Do yourself a favor, DO NOT miss this incredibly sobering production. Tickets are available at www.strazcenter.org.

"Here I am. Here I am. And the light is dying---- Where are you? Where are you? Will you answer me? ....Very soon, Very soon. That's the sound of longing. Are you there? Are you there? Will you Answer Me?" -Telephone Guy

Photo Credit: Evan Zimmerman, Murphymade.



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