If you are looking for a predictable, formulaic piece of musical theater, do not read this review! If, on the other hand, you are ready for a unique theatrical experience that serves up a rich blend of music and humor, that affords glimpses of warm human interaction and insights into universal human truths, come on down to the Durham Performing Arts Center between now and Sunday, Oct. 10th, for the national tour of the 2017 Broadway hit, The Band’s Visit, which DPAC is presenting as part of Truist Broadway at DPAC.
Adapted from its namesake 2007 Israeli movie, this 2017 winner of 10 Tony Awards® plays out what might happen when the name of a city in a foreign country is ever-so-slightly mispronounced.
When house lights go down, a message is projected on a screen in front of the stage: “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.” (Was this a tongue-in-cheek riff on the famous “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away …“?)
Then, accompanied by enchanting Egyptian music, the screen is raised; and stage lights come up. Will there be culture shock? Should we expect friction between Arabs and Israelis?
It’s 1996, and the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra (a band consisting of eight Egyptian men dressed in crisp, pale blue uniforms) has been sent to perform at the Arab Cultural Center in the Israeli city of Petah Tikvah, a suburb of Tel Aviv. We meet them in the airport where their uneasy posture and tentative behavior make it very clear that they feel like fish out of water.
Haled, the band-member who is assigned the task of buying their bus tickets, protests that his English is not very good; but Tewfiq (their leader) insists. Haled’s thick Egyptian accent, coupled with the ticket agent’s Israeli accent, lands the band with tickets to Bet Hatikva, a village so isolated in the desert that two songs — “Waiting” and “Welcome to Nowhere” — illustrate the boredom and the sheer monotony of the villagers’ lives.
The band stops in the town’s small café (where we meet employees Papi and Itzik) to ask for directions to the cultural center. Dina, the owner of the café, quickly discerns the error that landed them miles away from their destination and lets them know that (1) there will not be another bus until the next day, and (2) there are no hotels in this one-horse town.
In an act of hospitality, Dina and her friends offer to feed the musicians and to house them for the night. And this generosity is only the first of many heartwarming incidents that we witness in the ensuing vignettes of this show’s hundred-or-so minutes as we follow a few of the musicians and their hosts.
Dina (imbued with sassy good-humor by Broadway veteran Janet Dacal) gives her guest, Tewfiq (portrayed by Israeli movie star Sasson Gabay as a man haunted by loss and regret), a “tour of the town.” Because of the brevity of touring such a small town, the scene morphs into a park-bench chit-chat. The two learn that they share a passion for Egyptian music as well as for movies starring Omar Sharif. Is a bit of romance between them possible? Both of them find it quite easy to confide in and develop affection for their newly made friend.
We also travel with Haled (Joe Joseph) as he tags along with Papi (Coby Getzug) and friends on an outing to a roller rink. Will Haled’s advice help the shy, self-conscious Papi? For that matter, will Simon (James Rana) have a positive influence on the marital problems experienced by Iztik (Clay Singer) and Iris (Kendal Hartse)?
What does the future have in store for that love-starved “Telephone Guy” (Joshua Grosso)? And is Simon’s unfinished concerto intended as a metaphor for the lives of these characters? Or perhaps for our own lives? (Webster defines concerto as “a piece for one or more soloists and orchestra with three contrasting movements.”)
Part of the show’s beauty is in its ever-present gentle humor. For example, in the first scene, the musicians are conversing in Arabic. When one suggests, “Maybe we should speak English?” it is almost as though he is asking us (the audience) if we would enjoy the show more if we could understand the dialogue. Pay attention, also, to Dina’s response to Tewfiq’s question about whether or not her husband would mind her act of hospitality. The phone-booth and roller-rink scenes are also rife with humor.
In addition, we were impressed by the realism infused in the show by such touches as the cross-section of passersby in the early scenes and the use of a disco ball (which, thankfully, did not send its reflections out into the audience).
Especially noteworthy(and to the credit of Israeli dramaturg and dialect coach Zohar Tirosh Polk) is the way the characters speak. When non-native speakers must use English as a common language, we expect different accents, and these actors deliver. Above-and-beyond, however, were the occasional syntactical inversions, the broken sentences, and the searching-for-the-word that are inevitable in such conversations.
Conducted by Adrian Ries, the 10-member orchestra is outstanding. The Egyptian music is hauntingly beautiful to the point of being mesmerizing, and the infusion of “western” music adds a measure of verisimilitude by reminding that this exotic setting is part of the world in which we all live, thereby reminding us of the universality of the human condition. Five of these musicians, by the way, double as members of the onstage band; and they occasionally perform their music onstage rather than in the pit.
Scenic designer Scott Pask achieves seamless transitions between the various locales by use of multiple rotating sections of the floor. In addition to the band’s uniforms, costume designer Sarah Laux provides the cast with character-specific clothing. And sound designer Kai Harada subtly adds the necessary ambient sounds.
From the Department of Picky-Picky:
- The lighting cue for the opening scene could have lit the downstage left corner of the stage a bit better.
- It did seem a bit weird that the band would be travelling wearing their concert uniforms while they travel on an airplane and then a bus the day before a performance (rather than carrying them in garment bags).
Our verdict: See it if you can!
THE BAND’S VISIT (In Person at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 1 and 7 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 6-10)., presented as part of Truist Broadway at DPAC (Durham Performing Arts Center in Durham). TRAILER: https://youtu.be/1E4jelQ1TRo. OFFICIAL WEBSITE: https://thebandsvisitmusical.com/. DPAC NEWS RELEASE: https://www.dpacnc.com/news/detail/the-bands-visit-on-sale-at-dpac-on-october-10th-2019. DPAC COVID-19 REQUIREMENTS: https://www.dpacnc.com/events/vaccination-and-covid-19-test-requirements. TICKETS: $31 and up, plus taxes and ticket fees. Click here to buy tickets. GROUPS (10+ tickets): 919-680-2787, Groups@DPACnc.com, and https://www.dpacnc.com/events/groups-services. DIRECTIONS: https://www.dpacnc.com/plan-your-visit/directions. PARKING: https://www.dpacnc.com/plan-your-visit/parking. INFORMATION: 919-680-2787 or CustomerService@DPACnc.com. Susie Potter’s Review.
Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.