THE BASICS: THE BAND’S VISIT, a musical by Yazbek and Moses has relaunched its North American tour and visits Shea’s Buffalo Theater through November 7, weekdays at 7:30 pm, Saturday at 2 and 8, Sunday at 1 and 6:30. www.sheas.org/performances/the-bands-visit Runtime: 1 hour, 45 minutes without intermission. Full vaccination and masking protocols are in place.
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: In THE BAND’S VISIT an Egyptian band (the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra) on their way to the city of “Petah Tikvah” through a language error made by their flirtatious young trumpeter Haled (Joe Joseph), ends up accidentally stranded in “Bet Hatikva” sleepy Israeli desert town where nothing ever happens. Arriving at a café, the uptight band conductor, Tewfiq (Sasson Gabay) is told by the feisty and independent owner Dina (Janet Dacal) that there is no transportation out of the city that day, and there are no hotels for them to spend the night in, but they are welcome to stay in her apartment and in the homes of her employees (song: “Welcome to Nowhere”). Later that night, even though the Egyptians and Israelis speak different languages, Arabic and Hebrew, they communicate through broken English and, of course, music, and unexpected human relationships blossom in the desert.
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: This is the musical that won 10 Tony Awards in 2018 including Best Musical, Best Original Score for David Yazbek (remember TOOTSIE?) who also wrote the lyrics, Best Book of a Musical for Itamar Moses, and seven more. It’s based on a 2007 Israeli movie of the same name. After the North American tour shut down during the Covid pandemic, it started up early this October and is finally in Buffalo!
It’s a little bit COME FROM AWAY (locals adopt stranded strangers), a little bit RIVERDANCE and FIDDLER (fabulous ethnic music), a little bit CAROUSEL or MUSIC MAN (an attractive stranger comes to town), a little bit ALADDIN (a magical night) and a whole lot of every other show that’s about music, food, wine, dancing, men, women, boys, girls, longing and fulfillment.
And such music! Instruments seen on stage include the darbouka, or “goblet drum” (based on its shape) which is the national symbol of popular Egyptian “shaabi” music. There’s also the riq, the Egyptian tambourine usually played along with the darbouka. And there’s the oud, the gourd shaped fretless ancestor of our western lute. After you see the musical, and want to know more about the oud, here’s an 11 minute course in ethnomusicological history. Why is an instrument without guitar frets (and that includes the on-stage violin and cello) so popular in the Middle East? Because, like the clarinet, it’s easier to find those notes “in between” the notes we are locked into on, say, a piano.
Is that a D-sharp or an E-flat or something in-between? Is that our stereotype of an Egyptian or our stereotype of an Israeli, or something in between? Isn’t this a good time to be a little less rigid and see our common humanity?
The same as in the musical COME FROM AWAY we learn enough of the back story of everyone to add poignancy to the night. And there is a lot. Like the stories in A CHORUS LINE, just about everyone’s hurting in his or her own way, but they all have hope that tomorrow will be better. In this musical, the conductor hopes that the tour will be successful enough to fund the band going forward, another band member hopes to conduct the orchestra someday, another hopes to finish his clarinet concerto, and Haled the trumpeter is always hoping to get lucky.
On the side of the locals, Dina hopes that she might recapture the wonder of her youth when she used to listen to Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum on the radio and watch movies that starred Omar Sharif. Young Papi hopes that he can someday actually talk to his crush, maybe tonight at the roller rink? And the young man simply known as “Telephone Guy” who waits by a payphone night after night hopes that his girlfriend will call.
The stage is very clever, using those rotating concentric circles that we’ve seen before in HAMILTON. For me it isn’t a musical without a counterpoint duet and here we get the Israeli Itzik singing a lullaby with the Egyptian Camal singing in Arabic. Very cool. And I only feel I’ve gotten my money’s worth at a musical when I get choked up. It always happens during Act II of CAROUSEL, it happens during “Paul’s Story” in A CHORUS LINE, and now here, in a brief moment late at night in Dina’s apartment, it happens again.
I hope that it happens to you, too.
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!
Lead image: L-R Sasson Gabay as Tewfiq, Joe Joseph as Haled, Janet Dacal as Dina. Photo by Evan Zimmerman, MurphyMade (1163) | All photos for THE BAND’S VISIT North American Tour by Evan Zimmerman, MurphyMade, courtesy of Shea’s.