"The Band’s Visit" about an Egyptian 7 man band that took the wrong bus and ended up in a small Israeli town where they spend a single evening, opened the other night at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. It is a grown-up love story (and isn’t it about time we had something for the older generation of theatergoers?), and a little gem that is a must see in this era of big-time musicals.
It’s 1996, and it seems 6 members, plus their leader, of this touring group called the Alexandria Ceremonial Band, have mistaken the destination of a departing bus because of a spelling error. Instead of going to where they intended to play for the Arab Cultural Center, they end up in the town of Bet Hatikva in Israel where they meet an assortment of native souls some of which even wear roller skates. The band leader Tewfiq (I just love that name), just a marvelous Tony Shalhoub, a long time Broadway veteran, meets the proprietress of a tiny café, named Dina, an outstanding Katrina Link who I fell in love with immediately and conduct a love affair that doesn’t need any physical interaction. Love can happen in strange places.
The music’s by the up and coming David Yazbek who received Tony nominations for his work in "The Full Monty" and "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown," is quietly different and quite beautiful. There are no production numbers nor over the top dance numbers and if that’s what you’re looking for go elsewhere. The odd-looking group of band members, who can all play their instruments, are perfectly cast and the ragtag group of locals at the café, including one guy waiting for a phone call, really look like they belong in this godforsaken town.
For the record, "The Band’s Visit," written by Itamar Moses, was originally an Israeli film and then staged at the Atlantic Theater in New York City last season. It’s directed by the well-travelled David Cromer with scenery, and a nifty revolving stage by Scott Pask and costumes by Sarah Laux. Now at the end of the show, after the clapping has subsided, the blue-clad band members come center stage and play a number that was probably the one meant to be heard by that Arab Center.
This 90-minute show is not for kids, and it is not for the visiting businessman from Iowa, but it is meant for anyone who adores seeing a show that is very moving and which stars two middle-aged performers who are amazingly good. Please make a visit to "The Band's Visit" as soon as you can find a ticket without getting lost.