“The Band’s Visit” explores depths of life and love

Brian Luck

Contributing Writer

“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,” opens the musical, “The Band’s Visit.”

Though the events of “The Band’s Visit” seem unimportant, the musical itself is anything but. The musical, based on the film version, opened on Broadway in 2017 at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. It won 10 of the 11 Tony Awards for which it was nominated in 2018.

“The Band’s Visit” begins with the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra attempting to board a bus to Petah Tikvah. They mistakenly end up at the similar-sounding Bet Hatikva, not exactly the cultural hotspot for which they were aiming. Coming upon a small café, the band meets Dina (Katrina Lenk), the owner who invites them to stay the night so they can catch the first bus to Petah Tikvah in the morning. 

With not much to do in town, Tewfiq, the conductor of the band (Tony Shalhoub) and womanizer Haled (Ari’el Stachel), have dinner with Dina and stay at her home. They discuss her former husband and Tewfiq’s wife and son in Egypt. Though Tewfiq is reluctant, he lets Dina show him around Bet Hatikva. He demonstrates his conducting and sings for her in the local park and she begins to fall for him.

Meanwhile, clarinetist Simon and his bandmate Camal (Alok Tewari and George Abud) stay with Itzik, his wife Iris, their baby, and father-in-law Avrum (John Cariani, Kristen Sieh and Andrew Polk). As Avrum sings the story of how he fell in love with Iris’s mother, she gets frustrated with Itzik. The couple has not been getting along for some time, and at this point, Iris cannot take Itzik’s immaturity any longer. Simon helps calm their baby as they fight and eases the tension between the couple through the power of his playing.

Papi (Etai Benson), a nervous local, receives advice from Haled on his date at the skating rink. After mild disaster, he and Julia (Rachel Prather) drop their awkwardness and enjoy their date. At the only payphone in town, Telephone Guy (Adam Kantor) has been patiently waiting for his girlfriend to call all evening and every day for months. At the end of the night, she finally calls.

“The Band’s Visit” closed on Broadway on Sunday, April 7 and will begin their national tour later this spring. Playhouse Square in Cleveland will host the musical in November of 2019. All of the names included here represent the Original Broadway Cast for each role, many of whom have stayed with the show since its Off-Broadway run in 2016.

The musical does not include an immense amount of action, but the emotions of the characters drive the songs and plot forward. Dina is desperate to make a connection with a man after her former marriage. Itzik and Iris try to heal their relationship and Papi struggles to find his confidence with women. Telephone Guy stands as a representation for all the residents of Bet Hatikva: waiting and waiting for something to happen.