'The Band's Visit' review: Quiet and intimate musical sneaks up on you
Courtesy of Broadway in Detroit
There’s strength in silence. Or at least that seems to be a recurring theme in David Cromer’s Tony award winning “The Band’s Visit” which just landed at Detroit’s Fisher Theater for the next two weeks. With music and lyrics by David Yazbek and a book by Itmar Moses, “The Band’s Visit” doesn’t radiate with the energy or bravado of past Best Musical Tony winners “Hamilton” or “Hadestown,” instead turning in a somber, slow-burn drama with the occasional tune to help fuel the story. The show spans a single evening as members of the displaced Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra find themselves in the muted town of Beit Hatikva instead of the Arab culture center in Petah Tikvah where they’re expected to perform.
It presents an interesting contrast in the cultural viewpoint that struck audiences during its debut off-Broadway (and then eventually Broadway) in 2017 as ongoing conflicts between Arabs and Jews in the Middle East are still potent in 2022. If you can get past the occasional stagnant pacing, “The Band’s Visit” presents an affectionate display of characters who in the show, like the audience, are meeting for the first time. That’s an interesting direction for the touring musical, which is based on the 2007 award winning film and features the same actor, Sassoon Gabay playing band leader/conductor Tewfiq who also played the role in the movie.
In essence, “The Band’s Visit,” like a similar 100-minute intermission-less production “Come from Away,” paints a heartwarming image of compassion, humility, and relationships. Sure, “The Band’s Visit” doesn’t present a complex plot or in-depth character development, which at times left plenty to be desired (especially as the show, about an hour in, felt on autopilot before roaring back to life), its strongest aspect is the soft intensity of the cast’s unified voices which gel beautifully thanks to the immensely talented onstage musicians.
Providing a small peek into the worldview of these different perspectives, the show presents a slice of life and representation that doesn’t get the spotlight on theatre’s biggest stage. As the Egyptian band members, decked out in royal blue military attire, pour into the desolated Beit Hatikva, they encounter a variety of town folks who haven’t seen or felt much in a long time. There’s steadfast restaurant owner Dina (Janet Dacal – wonderful) who sings about how life took unexpected turns and her frustrations with never making it as an actress in Arab movies like the ones she grew up watching. Other characters include a young man (Joshua Grosso) standing by a payphone awaiting for his girlfriend, whom he hasn’t seen or heard from in months, to call; there’s Papi (Coby Getzug), a likable though shy fellow struggling to connect with his crush (and he sings about in one of the musical’s best songs “Papi Hears the Ocean”).
We also see glimpses into the livelihoods of Itzik (Clay Singer) and his wife Iris (Kendal Hartse) who are stuck in a rut despite their newborn baby giving them hope and admiration. You might not understand it in the moment, but upon reflection seeing these characters intersect and connect in real-time is a fascinating exercise (and Scott Pask’s scenic work makes effective use of a rotating stage). “The Band’s Visit” prides itself on letting the location and actions speak for themselves, and when the entire company swells during the emotional and climatic ballad “Answer Me,” it creates rare magic.
There might not be much that happens in “The Band’s Visit” considering these people’s entire worldview isn’t going to drastically change overnight and while the musical offers no major resolutions or events that’ll shake the foundations of the production, the strength and resilience about a band from Egypt accidentally visiting a small town in Israel (which you probably didn’t hear about because it wasn’t important) finds a way to simmer long after the curtain falls.
IF YOU GO:
Performance times for THE BAND’S VISIT appearing April 19 – May 1, 2022, at the Fisher in Detroit are Tuesday through Saturday evening performances at 8:00 p.m.
Saturday & Sunday matinees at 2:00 p.m.
Sunday evening performance at 7:30 p.m.
Open captioned performance on Sunday, April 24 at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets for THE BAND’S VISIT start at $35 (includes facility and parking fees). Tickets can be purchased online at ticketmaster.com and in person at the Fisher Theatre Box Office.
For group sales (10 or more) please email email@example.com or call 313-871-1132.