THE BAND’S VISIT feels like an homage to the fleeting nature of live theater itself: a moment in time in which performers and audience are brought together to share a collective experience, all-encompassing yet passing swiftly and never to be created again. So too goes the narrative of the two characters at the center of this 2018 Tony Award-winning musical, Tewliq, the Egyptian conductor of the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra, and Dina, an Israeli woman living in the small town of Bet Hatikva. When Tewliq and his fellow band members accidentally make their way to Bet Hatikva, instead of the city Petah Tikva in which they have a concert engagement, the cast of characters come together by pure happenstance. The magnetic and mysterious connection that Tewliq and Dina share in the one night in which their lives overlap is similarly ethereal.
The musical itself echoes this conceit; THE BAND’S VISIT isn’t a loud, flashy show. Instead, it’s a musical full of intimate, lovely moments of all emotional tones. Some are funny, such as band member Haled’s multiple attempts to flirt with strangers using references to Chet Baker, which actor Joe Joseph delivers with aplomb). Others are heartbreaking, as we see Tewliq and Dina reveal some of the most intimate and tragic elements from their lives. David Yazbek’s unique score, which has so many beautiful and clearly recognizable Middle Eastern references, similarly follows the waves of emotion that the show possesses. Yazbek’s remarkable and original score washes over the audience like waves, underscoring each emotional beat. His lyrics are similarly nuanced, with a mostly anecdotal feel. Itamar Moses’s book meshes nicely with the lyrics so both the dialogue and songs feel entirely of a piece.
Tony Award-winning director David Cromer has remounted his original Broadway staging here for the tour, and the Cadillac Palace Theatre has never felt like more intimate of a space. Scott Pask’s scenic design envelops the audience in the small-town vibe of Bet Hatikva, as do Sarah Laux’s costume designs.
Under Cromer’s direction, the cast easily hits all the emotional beats in THE BAND’S VISIT. In the central roles of Dina and Tewliq, Chilina Kennedy and Sasson Gabay (reprising his role from the film upon which the musical is based) have a fantastic rapport, capturing that sense of strangers who are both foreign and yet familiar to one another. Kennedy’s vocal performance is expert and emotionally nuanced; her rendition of Dina’s solo “Omar Sharif” manages to be simultaneously quotidian and immense. The song relays Dina’s experiences growing up with the films of the actor Omar Sharif, an exercise in nostalgia that transports the character—and actor—into a dreamlike state as she’s wrapped up in the memories. Kennedy delivers on all the complexities of that frame of mind in her take. It’s representative of Kennedy’s entire performance in which she combines Dina’s moments, however minute or subtle, into a sweeping character study. Gabay answers Kennedy’s intensity and expertise with a performance that shows audiences the immense weight of Tewliq’s past experiences. He does not shy away from Tewliq’s reserved nature but also makes the character likable from the first moment we see him appear onstage.
The rest of the ensemble demonstrates that Gabay and Kennedy are in great company. From Adam Gabay’s take on Papi, a shy young resident of Bet Hatikva who feels flustered when faced with the possibility of flirting with a love interest, to Kendal Hartse’s performance as Iris, a woman struggling with the challenges of new motherhood, the actors bring each of their characters to life with finely-honed performances. The company’s performance of the late number “Answer Me” is positively breathtaking as well. It is a moment like that song that cuts to the heart of what THE BAND’S VISIT so well demonstrates: that connections and shared experiences between people, no matter how different those people may initially seem and no matter how fleeting those moments, can have a powerful impact.
Broadway In Chicago’s engagement of THE BAND’S VISIT national tour plays through September 15 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 West Randolph. Tickets are $39-$106. Visit BroadwayInChicago.com or call 800-775-2000.
Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy
Originally published on BroadwayWorld.com