BWW Review: THE BAND'S VISIT is a Quiet, Gorgeous Study of Human Connection
The premise is simple: it's the 90s and the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra is travelling from Egypt to Petah Tikva to perform in a concert. Due to a language barrier, they end up in the tiny desert town of Bet Hatikva with little money, no hotel to check into, and a full day's wait until the next bus out of town.
The next ninety minutes follow members of the band as they explore the town with their hosts. Café owner Dina (Chilina Kennedy), her employee Papi (Adam Gabay) and patron Itzik (Pomme Koch) each take a few members of the orchestra with them, and each provide a different look into Bet Hatikva, its residents, and their struggles. In its Toronto premiere this 10-time Tony winning musical, based on the film of the same name, is directed by David Cromer and presented by Mirvish.
The central storyline is that of Dina, who takes the band's conductor Tewfiq (Sasson Gabay, who played the same role in the 2007 film of the same name) and suave trumpeter Haled (Joe Joseph) back to her small apartment, situated up above the streets and placed within the town through the use of a set window up above the stage's buildings. Kennedy's Dina is electric; she moves languidly and lazily around, and given the character's history as an aspiring dancer, her fluid movements (choreography by Patrick McCollum) add to the dreaminess of numbers like 'Omar Sharif.'
On the other hand, Kennedy fills her Dina with passion. She's unafraid to speak her mind and manages to convey her feelings about her husband perfectly while slicing a watermelon, even with her back turned to the audience. In complete contrast, Gabay is ramrod-straight and politely professional to the max. The quiet approach to the character makes him all the more endearing, and his 'Itgara'a' is nothing short of magical as it breaks down an unseen barrier between the pair that leads to a beautiful moment of music and movement.
Joseph and Gabay are a completely believable odd couple, pairing Haled's charming nature against Papi's social awkwardness. The two take full advantage of the comedic opportunities in their back-to-back solos, and a short moment exploring the potential for anger against the visiting Egyptians is a stark reminder of the differences between them and the townspeople, although the show doesn't get into the politics of it's setting.
The focus on human connection is possibly most poignant within Itzak's home, where the unemployed man has brought home the clarinetist Simon, who dreams of conducting and is working on his own concerto. At dinner they're joined by Itzak's wife Iris (Kendal Hartse) and father-in-law Avrum (David Studwell), and as the night progresses they become more open with one another based on a mutual love of music. The simplicity of 'Itzak's Lullaby,' gives Koch plenty of room to bring forth a softness and innocence that makes him all the more loveable, and in his interactions with Hartse are quick, important and effective.
Between these three different groups, the rest of the band are peppered throughout the town - and set - to provide accompaniment and instrumental pieces, with backing by the orchestra. One of the highlights of the show comes after curtains, where the full band performs a mini concert that really accentuates their skills and the beauty of the David Yazbeck's music.
Despite the growth of the characters, THE BAND'S VISIT doesn't rely on declarations of love or promises to change. Dina repeats the line she opened the show with: "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." It's a perfectly quiet, unassuming ending to a story that promises nothing more than a brief look into its characters - and delivers on that promise in the most satisfying way possible.
THE BAND'S VISIT runs through October 20 at the Ed Mirvish Theatre, 244 Victoria Street, Toronto.
For more information or to buy tickets, visit https://www.mirvish.com/shows/the-bands-visit
Photo credit: Matthew Murphy