The Band’s Visit, which cleaned up with ten Tony Awards in 2018 (including nods for David Yazbek’s score, Itamar Moses’s book, and David Cromer’s direction), seems at first to be an unlikely Broadway smash. It’s a small story about small moments—all of which can easily be swallowed up on a bigger stage. Having seen the wise and poignant magic this show revealed in New York, I was both excited and trepidatious about how it would stand up on tour.
I needn’t have worried—and not just because the role of Tewfiq, the leader of the traveling Egyptian police orchestra that finds itself in the wrong Israeli town overnight, is played by Sasson Gabay, who originated the part in Eran Kolirin’s 2007 film. (Gabay replaced Tony Shalhoub on Broadway.) The secret to this production is that it doesn’t shout for your attention, just as the characters don’t demand your sympathy for their seemingly stunted lives in Nowheresville in the Negev desert.
Gabay’s Tewfiq and Chilina Kennedy’s Dina, the cafe owner who arranges housing for the wayward musicians, anchor the production. There are sparks between them, especially in the hypnotic “Omar Sharif,” where Dina recalls the allure of Egyptian films and music as romantic escapes from dusty reality in her youth. But loss and regret are never far away. Yazbek’s score, much of it played live by the actors in the onstage band (utilizing, among other instruments, oud, cello, and clarinet), mixes a variety of Middle Eastern influences with a dash of a pop sensibliity. It’s joyous, sad, knowing, and wistful all at once. By the time the ensemble joins together in the closing “Answer Me,” the tears were rolling without shame, just as they did the first time I heard it. v