Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
The musical by David Yazbek (music and lyrics) and Itamar Moses (book) might seem an unlikely candidate to win 10 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, as it did in 2018. The cast is small, the mood low-key, and the physical production unprepossessing (although Scott Pask's scenic design offers more variety than is apparent at first). None of that matters as it demonstrates how intimate, interpersonal dramas can be as engrossing as spectacle.
Moses' book, based on a 2007 Israeli movie, follows the members of an Egyptian police band who come to Israel in 1996 to perform at an Arab cultural center and, after taking the wrong bus, land in an isolated town in the desert. The band members speak Arabic among themselves, the townspeople speak Hebrew, and they communicate with each other in English. Stranded until the next day, the band members are taken in by café owner Dina (Chilina Kennedy) and make some tentative connections.
The heart of the production, directed with subtlety by David Cromer, is the bond that develops between Dina and Tewfiq (Sasson Gabay), the leader of the band. Gabay, who played the same role in the movie and succeeded Tony Shalhoub on Broadway, demonstrates great pathos and heart through his facial expressions and body language as well as in his terse dialogue. Kennedy is quietly radiant, especially in her solos "Omar Sharif" (about her lifelong fascination with Egyptian music and movies) and "Something Different."
Music becomes the bond between the townspeople and the visitors: trumpeter Haled (Joe Joseph) shares his admiration for the work of American jazz trumpeter Chet Baker; and host Avrum (David Studwell) tells clarinetist Simon (James Rana) about how music brought him together with his late wife. Yazbek's exquisite score draws on Arab and Israeli traditions and instruments to create a hypnotic mood.