Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
The eight Egyptian musicians who make up the Ceremonial Police Orchestra of Alexandria, Egypt, are headed for Petah Tikva, a large, industrial Israeli city near Tel Aviv, where they will perform at the opening of a new cultural arts center. Due to the differences in their languages (there is no "P" sound in Arabic), they instead board a bus to tiny Bet Hatikva, a fictional town in the middle of the Negev Desert. There is no cultural arts center there. There is no culture at all. Nor is there a hotel, which is a problem, as the next bus out, to take the band to Petah Tikvah, isn't until the next morning. Dina, the tough, sarcastic owner of a small café, invites the band members to stay overnight, distributing them at her own home, the café, and the home of a friend.
The Egyptians and Israelis speak in clumsy English, a language none of them has mastered, but all speak well enough to connect. Those connections include Dina and the band's leader Tewfiq spending the evening sharing bittersweet reflections on life and loneliness; clarinetist Simon and violinist Camal finding themselves with a pair of new parents wresting with marital angst; and a jazz-loving trumpeter, Haled, who takes a painfully bashful Israeli man, Papi, under his wing. None of these constitute the stuff of big song and dance numbers. They are gentle, heartfelt stories, told with humor, grace, and deep affection for these characters, whose human-ness transcends national, sectarian, and linguistic boundaries.
Itamar Moses' adaptation of Eran Kolirin's screenplay maintains the authentic voices of these ordinary people, with their capacity to move us simply by revealing their truths. David Yazbek has created scores with a jazzy edge for such shows as The Full Monty, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. Iranian-American composer/orchestrator Jamshied Sharifi has a storied background in both jazz (he studied with Charlie Parker) and world music. As orchestrator for The Band's Visit, his work with Yazbek's score captures the voices of the characters, drawing on the Middle Eastern traditions that permeate their lives and the wistful hopefulness found in jazz.
The score includes the yearnful "Omar Sharif," the sultry "Something Different," the haunting "Itzik's Lullaby," and one song, "Haled's Song About Love," that in a different decade would be an immediate cabaret standard. At the end of the musical, "Answer Me" begins with a single voice, joined by the unlikely assemblage of Israelis and Egyptians, raising voices in the universal quest for our hopes to be rewarded. Between scenes, members of the band, in different combinations, perform bits of traditional-sounding (but all original compositions for the show) melodies that elicit both the joys and constraints inherent in culture.
Those musical interludes are one aspect of the show's very gentle, authentic means of telling its stories, as beautifully staged by David Cromer. Space is allotted between scenes as characters stroll or are carried off on a revolving ring set into the stage floor, characters cross paths, and there is a natural-feeling transition from one focus to another, never hurried, never jarring, treating these people with tenderness and respect. The choreography is based on the natural, jubilant movements of people in small gatherings and the sensuality in the wave of one's arms that captures Dina's longing with indelible grace.
Chilina Kennedy plays Dina, the leading female role, with sullenness geared at protecting her wounded heart, unfolding like a flower as she reveals her needs and regrets. She sings beautifully, bringing soulful yearning to all of her songs. Sasson Gabay, who starred at the band leader Tewfiq in the film, was cast in that role on the tour, but is taking a vacation during its Minneapolis run. Instead, that part is being played by James Rana, stepping up from his usual role as Simon the clarinetist. Rana makes a terrific Tewfiq, a starchy stickler for protocol who, like Dina, reveals his true nature in an evening under the dessert moon.
Joe Joseph is wonderful as Haled, trying his goofy pick-up lines on every girl he passes, yearning for something more exciting than life in a police orchestraand knowing that what awaits him is far less. He reveals a generosity of spirit as he coaches Papi (a delightfully hangdog Adam Gabay, the son of Sasson Gabay) on the art of romancing a woman, and delivers "Haled's Song About Love" with cool sensuality. As Itzik, the new father unready for the responsibility now on his shoulders, Pomme Koch is warmly winning, tenderly singing a lullaby to his child. Kendal Hartse conveys the deep frustrations felt by Itzik's wife Iris, while David Studwell draws up a well of zest for life as her father Avrum, who advises all to follow "The Beat of Your Heart."
Scott Pask's set depicts the close-quartered sand-toned buildings of this desert outpost, with revolving panels that seamlessly take us from one home to another, to a café, to a roller skating rink, to a barren park. It is as if we have strolled through the entire town. Tyler Micoleau's lighting embellishes the emotional tenor of each location, and makes a more glorious use of a disco ball than I could ever have imagined. Sarah Laux's costumes help to describe each character, with Dina's sleeveless flowery print-on-black dress a testament of the romantic within her cynical exterior.
The Band's Visit deserves the many awards and accolades it received for its Off-Broadway and Broadway runs. It is not a big, flashy show with effects that dazzle, like the Orpheum's last visitor, The Phantom of the Opera, but is powered by its heart, its tenderness, its strikingly original and beautiful score, and its vision of human beings taking time to look one another in the face and finding we are more alike than not. While there is nothing about The Band's Visit that intends it to be a holiday show, if the idea of "peace on earth, good will to all" appeals to you, this is the show to see.
The Band's Visit runs through December 15, 2019, at the Orpheum Theatre, 910 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis MN. Tickets: $30.00 - $136.00 some seats may have limited visibility and/or limited legroom. For ticket information, including availability of student and educator rush tickets, call 800-982-2787 or visit hennepintheatretrust.org. For tour information go to thebandsvisitmusical.com.
Music and Lyrics: David Yazbek; Book: Itamar Moses, based on the screenplay by Eran Kolirin; Director: David Cromer; Choreography: Patrick McCollum; Set Design: Scott Pask; Costume Design: Sarah Laux; Lighting Design: Tyler Micoleau; Sound Design: Kai Harada; Projection Design: Maya Ciarrocchi; Hair and Wig Design: Charles G. LaPointe; Associate Directors: Seth Sikes and Zi Alikhan; Associate Choreographer: Jesse Kovarsky; Orchestrations: Jamshied Sharifi; Music Director: Rick Bertone; Music Coordinator: Dean Sharenow; Additional Arrangements: Andrea Grody; Dialect Coach: Zohar Tirosh-Polk and Ronnie Malley; Casting: Tara Rubin Casting, Peter Van Dam CSA; Production Stage Manager: John M. Atherlay.
Cast: Jennifer Apple (Anna), Tony Bird (Band), Mike Cefalo (Telephone Guy), George Crotty (Band), Evan Francis (Band), Adam Gabay (Papi), Sasson Gabay (Tewfiq), Marc Ginsburg (Sammy), Kendal Hartse (Iris), Joe Joseph (Haled), Sara Kapner (Julia), Chilina Kennedy (Dina), Pomme Koch (Itzik), Roger Kashou (Band), Ronnie Malley (Camal/Band), James Rana (Simon), Or Schraiber (Zelger), David Studwell (Avrum).