“The Band’s Visit” is a lovely new musical that tells the story of an Egyptian police band in 1996 Israel who accidentally got sent to the wrong town on their way to a concert. They intended to go to a sprawling city called Petah Tikva but after a miscommunication at the bus station, they accidentally are sent to a small desolate town called Bet Hatikvah. With no bus into the city until the next day, the band members decide to spend a night with the town’s locals. Although the plot sounds simple, what follows is a blissful evening of connection and music as the band members form meaningful and thought-provoking relationships with Bet Hatikvah’s colorful characters.
Katrina Lenk delivers an exemplary star turn as the town’s matriarch and café owner, Dina. The character of Dina starts off extremely jaded as life hasn’t given her any favors. When she meets the band’s leader Tewfiq, she initially is hesitant to open up. After finding a mutual connection through music, a strong bond emerges that could be a friendship or maybe even something more. Dina’s stunning arc is expertly conveyed through Lenk’s sensitive performance. She imbues Dina with a sensual physicality that just pulls the audience completely into her character. Her beautiful number “Omar Sharif”, as Dina reminisces with Tewfiq about the music and film of her youth, stuns not only in its beautifully haunting melody but also through Lenk’s captivating performance. Her voice has a hypnotic quality that leaves the viewer in awe. The expression she brings with just the movement of her hands in the number transports the audience back with the character, and it truly is something magical. Lenk shares incredible chemistry with Dariush Kashani’s Tewfiq. Her performance is one for the ages, and easily one of the strongest of this broadway season.
Dariush Kashani brings great tenderness to the stoic yet sensitive Tewfiq. The character of Tewfiq throughout the show puts a wall around himself as he tries to remain grounded for the sake of himself and his band. As he spends the night with Dina, Tewfiq starts to crack just a little bit out of his own shell. Dariush Kashani makes Tewfiq’s journey one worth following. His subtle glances for the character speaks volumes. His climatic duet, “Something Different” with Katrina Lenk’s Dina is grand in its intricacies. Even something as subtle as Kashani’s nuanced hand motions for when the character is conducting simultaneously communicates authority yet tenderness and love for the music. The care that Kashani brings to Tewfiq is infectious, and is a joy to watch.
Ari’el Stachel is a revelation as the playful yet wise Haled. As the musical first opens, the audience views Haled as a bit of a goof as he is trying out his trademark cheesy pickup line with every girl he sees. When the character comes to Bet Hatikva, we see a whole new side to Haled. Stachel charms in his early scenes and brings great humor to this expressive character. Ari’el Stachel shows a softer side to Haled in his interactions with Etai Benson’s Papi. His smooth performance of the character’s jazz infused solo “Haled’s Song About Love” stuns in its subtlety, and Stachel croons the number with a refreshing tenderness. Haled’s transformation from a jokester to a mature and grounded young man is played with great heart by Stachel, and is a major highlight of the musical.
Etai Benson is a comedic riot as the insecure Papi. His anxiety filled song, “Papi Hears the Ocean” is hilarious as he tries to woo the equally as awkward Julia (Rachel Prather). Benson grounds the number in a knowing truth that makes David Yazbek’s witty lyrics even more satisfying. His chemistry with Ari’el Stachel’s Haled is very strong and they are a joy to watch together.
Andrew Polk is touching as the heartfelt Avrum. The scenes where the character is reminiscing about his dead wife is expressed with great care and genuine affection from Polk. His number “The Rhythm of Love” is rousing in the pure heart the actor brings to this lovable man.
John Cariani is wonderful as the upbeat Izik. This character spends most of his time taking care of his new baby, but Izik always keeps in good spirits even when the character’s wife, Anna (Kristen Sieh) cannot stand him. The audience cannot help but root for Izik and that is in large part to the winning spirit Cariani brings to this role. In his portrayal, the audience sees a man who is just trying his best with the life he has. The character’s tender ballad, “Itzik’s Lullaby” is sung with soothing care by John Cariani.
The entire cast is uniformingly excellent, but special mention must be given to Adam Kantor’s lovely performance as the Telephone Guy who is waiting for his girlfriend to call. Kantor brings a longing to this man that gives an urgency to his scenes. Kantor leads the gorgeous song “Answer Me” late into the show that serves as a heart-tugging call for companionship. Kantor’s tender performance of this number is a true stunner and is a powerful ode to connection that just leaves the audience in utter awe.
David Yazbek’s eclectic middle eastern score sparkles with vibrant energy. From the sarcastically comic, “Welcome to Nowhere” to the grandeur of “Omar Sharif”, Yazbek has created a score that feels familiar while also entirely unique. This musical is set in the barren town of Bet Hatikva, but Yazbek’s music is brimming new life into the musical theatre canon.
Itamar Moses’ book feels incredibly raw and is entirely engaging. Based off the film of the same name, Moses’ book works in tangent with Yazbek’s score incredibly well. The whole evening feels much more like a play with music than a traditional musical. That is in large part to the care and authenticity Itamar Moses and David Yazbek bring in the crafting of this show. Moses’ lovely dialogue sparkles with authenticity and is so specific to each person. Even the smallest characters in this show feel fully formed, which is a testament to the great writing.
David Cromer directs this musical with a naturalistic lens that makes this story feel incredibly real and lived in. The pauses that occur during the character’s interactions create moments of empathy that feel genuine and earned. Each scene flows smoothly into the next, as Scott Pask’s gorgeous sets roll in and out. The atmospheric lighting by Tyler Micoleau creates an environment that has a rawness yet also a heightened and dreamlike quality. The projection design by Maya Ciarrocchi in the song “Omar Sharif”, adds greatly to the dreamlike nature of this world.
Special mention must also be given to the realistic costumes of Sarah Laux, the crisp sound design by Kai Harada, and the choreography by Patrick McCollum that adds great vibrancy to the musical. Last but certainly not least, the extremely talented band members, who play throughout the show, stun in their sheer passion and precision. All are excellent and bring the show to a thrilling close as they play their hearts out in the final concert sequence.
“The Band’s Visit” is a musical about connection where nothing yet everything happens. Its message on communication is important yet nuanced in its execution. This show is slower paced and may not be for everyone, but those who listen will find something subtle yet profound in this gorgeous piece of musical theatre. This is a show that leaves the audience rejoicing and remembering why they fell in love with theatre in the first place. Do not miss this stunning and transformative piece of art.