On the drive to downtown Chicago where Broadway in Chicago is presenting The Band’s Visit at the Cadillac Palace until September 15, 2019, I was not convinced the show could be worth the very unpleasant drive, but was I wrong. I can’t recommend this show too strongly. My angst and frustration just melted away as I was transported into the langorous, heart wrenching, and beautiful world of The Band’s Visit.
With music and lyrics by David Yazbek and a book by Itamar Moses,, The Band’s Visit is based on the 2007 Israeli film of the same name. The musical opened on Broadway at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre in November 2017, after its off-Broadway premiere at the Atlantic Theater Company in December 2016. The Band’s Visit is one of only four musicals in Broadway history to win the unofficial “Big Six” Tony Awards, which include Best Musical, Best Book, Best Score, Best Actor in a Musical, Best Actress in a Musical, and Best Direction of a Musical. It won the 2019 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album.
I’ve always had a bit of a love/hate relationship with musical theatre. The required talent and virtuosity of musical theatre actors has always amazed me, but the narratives of the shows often leave me unsatisfied and at times downright confused. The opening lines of the show define its own story as one that “…wasn’t very important,” but the story, which appears to be very simple and almost banal turns out to be so much more on so many levels.
At some point at the beginning of the show I thought “Wow, nothing is actually happening in this show; is it the Seinfeld of musical theatre, or something?” However, as the show progressed, I realized that I was witnessing a study of all kinds of relationships, in all of their glorious and often painful complexity. The actors were “uber” talented, many of them with voices like silk, great comic timing and crazy good musicianship.
After a mix-up at the border, an Egyptian Police Band is sent to a remote village in the middle of the Israeli desert. With no bus until morning and no hotel in sight, these unlikely travelers are taken in by the locals. Under the spell of the desert sky, their lives become intertwined in the most unexpected ways.
This was a delightful and heart-warming adventure. I was pleased to see Chilina Kennedy, as I had seen her in a wonderful production of Jesus Christ Superstar at the Shakespeare Theatre Festival in Straford, Ontario, a part that she played again on Broadway. Her voice was as lovely as I remembered and her acting more impressive as Dina, an Israeli woman from a “Podunk “town, who is well aware that life is passing her by. The highlight of the show for me was Joe Joseph as Haled, the band member who is the cause f the mishap that makes the story possible. We learn that he is on a mission to sow his wild oats before going back to an arranged marriage in Egypt. He “hits the town” but instead of finding a good time of his own, he helps two misfits find each other in, of all places, a roller rink.
I didn’t find out until after seeing the show that it is based on a 2007 movie of the same name. This made perfect sense to me since the show moves a lot like many of the foreign language films I love; it takes its time and allows moments of quiet and even silence, quite unlike the lightning fast editing of American action and superhero movies. The Band’s Visit has none of the splashy musical and dance numbers that seem to define its genre, but its story, message, and heart are far more meaningful than the typical bells and whistles. This is a very short run. Don’t miss it.
Photos: Matthew Murphy
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