‘The Band’s Visit’ Is a Ravishing Musical That Whispers With Romance

By Ben Brantley

Breaking news for Broadway theatergoers, even — or perhaps especially — those who thought they were past the age of infatuation: It is time to fall in love again.

One of the most ravishing musicals you will ever be seduced by opened on Thursday night at the Barrymore Theater. It is called “The Band’s Visit,” and its undeniable allure is not of the hard-charging, brightly blaring sort common to box-office extravaganzas.

Instead, this portrait of a single night in a tiny Israeli desert town confirms a lyric that arrives, like nearly everything in this remarkable show, on a breath of reluctantly romantic hope: “Nothing is as beautiful as something you don’t expect.”

With songs by David Yazbek and a script by Itamar Moses, “The Band’s Visit” is a Broadway rarity seldom found these days outside of the canon of Stephen Sondheim: an honest-to-God musical for grown-ups. It is not a work to be punctuated with rowdy cheers and foot-stomping ovations, despite the uncanny virtuosity of Mr. Yazbek’s benchmark score.

That would stop the show, and you really don’t want that to happen. Directed by David Cromer with an inspired inventiveness that never calls attention to itself, “The Band’s Visit” flows with the grave and joyful insistence of life itself. All it asks is that you be quiet enough to hear the music in the murmurs, whispers and silences of human existence at its most mundane — and transcendent.

And, oh yes, be willing to have your heart broken, at least a little. Because “The Band’s Visit,” which stars a magnificent Katrina Lenk and Tony Shalhoub as would-be lovers in a not-quite paradise, is like life in that way, too.

There were worries that this finely detailed show, based on Eran Kolirin’s screenplay for the 2007 film of the same title, might not survive the transfer to Broadway. First staged to sold-out houses late last year at the Atlantic Theater Company, it exuded a shimmering transparency that might well have evaporated in less intimate quarters.

Yet “The Band’s Visit” — which follows the modest adventures of a touring Egyptian band stranded in an Israeli village significant only for its insignificance — more than holds its own on a larger stage. Its impeccably coordinated creative team has magnified and polished its assets to a high sheen that never feels synthetic.

This show was always close to perfect musically. (Mr. Yazbek’s quietly simmering score, which inflects Broadway balladry and character songs with a haunting Middle Eastern accent, felt as essential as oxygen.) But it felt a shade less persuasive in its connective spoken scenes.

That is, to say the least, no longer a problem. Though the lives it depicts are governed by a caution born of chronic disappointment, Mr. Cromer’s production now moves wire to wire with a thoroughbred’s confidence.

Such assurance is all the more impressive when you consider that “The Band’s Visit” is built on delicately balanced contradictions. It finds ecstasy in ennui; eroticism among people who rarely make physical contact; and a sense of profound eventfulness in a plot in which, all told, very little happens.

The story is sprung when the members of the Alexandria Ceremonial Band, led by their straight-backed conductor, Tewfiq (Mr. Shalhoub), board a bus in 1996 for an engagement at the Arab Cultural Center in the city of Petah Tikva. Thanks to some understandable confusion at the ticket counter, they wind up instead in the flyblown backwater of Bet Hatikva.

They register as unmistakably alien figures there, looking like refugees from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in their powder-blue uniforms. (Sarah Laux did the costumes.) And there’s not a bus out of this godforsaken hole until the next morning.

Just how uninteresting is Bet Hatikva? Its residents are happy to tell you, in some of the wittiest songs ever written about being bored. The “B” that begins its name might as well stand for “basically bleak and beige and blah blah blah.”

Leading this civic inventory is a cafe proprietor named Dina (Ms. Lenk, in a star-making performance), a wry beauty who clearly doesn’t belong here and just as clearly will never leave. Like her fellow citizens, she sees the defining condition of her life as eternal waiting, a state in which you “keep looking off out into the distance/ Even though you know the view is never gonna change.”

Scott Pask’s revolving set, so fitting for a world in which life seems to spin in an endless circle, captures the sameness of the view. But Tyler Micoleau’s lighting, and the whispers of projections by Maya Ciarrocchi, evoke the subliminal changes of perspective stirred by the arrival of strangers.

Connections among the Egyptian and the Israeli characters are inevitably incomplete. To begin with, they don’t share a language and must communicate in broken English. And as the stranded musicians interact with their hosts, their shared story becomes a tally of sweet nothings, of regretful might-have-beens.

That means that the cultural collisions and consummations that you — and they — might anticipate don’t occur. Even the frictions that emerge from uninvited Arabs on Israeli soil flicker and die like damp matches.

The show is carefully veined with images of incompleteness: a forever unlit cigarette in the mouth of a violinist (George Abud); a clarinet concerto that has never been completed by its composer (Alok Tewari); a public telephone that never rings, guarded by a local (Adam Kantor) waiting for a call from his girlfriend; and a pickup line that’s dangled like an unbaited hook by the band’s aspiring Lothario (Ari’el Stachel, whose smooth jazz vocals dazzle in the style of his character’s idol, Chet Baker).

All the cast members — who also include a deeply affecting John Cariani, Kristen Sieh, Etai Benson and Andrew Polk — forge precisely individualized characters, lonely people who have all known loss, with everything and nothing in common. A marvelous Mr. Shalhoub (“Monk”) has only grown in the role of a man who carries his dignity and private grief with the stiffness of someone transporting perilously fragile cargo.

As for Ms. Lenk, seen on Broadway last season in Paula Vogel’s “Indecent,” she is the ideal avatar of this show’s paradoxical spirit, at once coolly evasive and warmly expansive, like the jasmine wind that Dina describes in the breakout ballad “Omar Sharif.”

Listening to Tewfiq sing in Arabic, she wonders, “Is he singing about wishing?” She goes on: “I don’t know what I feel, and I don’t know what I know/All I know is I feel something different.”

Mr. Yazbek’s melody matches the exquisitely uncertain certainty of the lyrics. That “something different” is the heart-clutching sensation that throbs throughout this miraculous show, as precise as it is elusive, and all the more poignant for being both.

‘The Band’s Visit’ is gentle, soulful, tuneful — and the best new musical on Broadway

By Peter Marks

NEW YORK — “Beautiful” is a word we bandy about in the daily pursuit of adjectives to describe the things we love. But even in an entertainment world overrun with superlatives, this is the one you’re compelled to use to describe “The Band’s Visit,” which had its official opening Thursday night at Broadway’s Ethel Barrymore Theatre.

Beautiful music, beautiful story, beautiful acting. To quote the Emcee in “Cabaret”: Even the orchestra is beautiful. In this case, it consists of eight actor-musicians, portraying the members of a ceremonial police band from Alexandria, Egypt, that has been invited to play a goodwill concert in Israel. Except they arrive in the wrong town, a desert backwater where the blasé residents can’t easily be shaken out of their arid torpor. Not even by the sudden appearance in their midst of courtly, uniformed fellows from a neighboring if culturally distinct country, bearing clarinets and cellos and the enticing hints of the world beyond.

One of the many marvels, though, of “The Band’s Visit” — which is based on a 2007 Israeli movie of the same title and directed here with a maestro’s virtuosic vision by David Cromer — is that its composer, David Yazbek, and book writer, Itamar Moses, wring so much personality and melodic soulfulness out of a story about going nowhere. Even in the driest reaches of the Negev, it seems, you can still be treading water, all the while aching for a life filled with more exhilarating verbs.

That ache is embodied most gloriously in the person of Katrina Lenk, in a star-making turn as an Israeli woman cheated out of adventure, family and intellectual stimulation by unfortunate romantic choices and her own inertia. Lenk’s Dina and the town of Bet Hatikva — the nowheresville that the Egyptians hilariously mistake for their livelier intended destination, Pet Hatikva — are made for each other: a woman and a locale both eternally waiting for something, anything, to happen.

“Waiting” happens to be the title Yazbek, composer of Broadway’s “The Full Monty” and “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” gives to the opening number, a luscious anthem introducing us via the turntable on Scott Pask’s fine, sun-baked set to the ordinary Israelis who populate Bet Hatikva. We will, over the course of 100 tautly handled minutes, get to know something essential about every one of them, as if this were a Mediterranean “Our Town” and Moses (apt surname) was reminding us anew that everybody has an urgent story, usually circling around love: the well-meaning schlep  (John Cariani) married to the disenchanted wife (Kristen Sieh); the besotted boyfriend (Adam Kantor), guarding a pay phone for one hoped-for call; the widower (Andrew Polk) with the treasured memory of love in bloom; the social klutz (Etai Benson), clueless at the art of seduction.

The orchestra members, too, have tales to tell, and they materialize in Bet Hatikva — their powder-blue jackets and pants waking up the colorless surroundings — as bewildered accidental tourists. Magnetically and amusingly on hand is Ari’el Stachel as Haled, a rakish horn player with an eye for the ladies and an endearingly lame pickup line: “Do you like Shet Baykir?” he asks every woman he encounters, referring to American jazz trumpeter Chet Baker. Movingly, too, there’s Tony Shalhoub, in an immaculately tender performance as Tewfiq, the reserved band leader to whom Dina is drawn and to whom she sings the swooning memory song “Omar Sharif,” as alluring as a cool wind on a sultry Middle Eastern night.

Lenk’s tough-shelled but empathetic Dina and Shalhoub’s kind and remorseful Tewfiq are even more robust versions of the characters they created earlier this year at off-Broadway’s Atlantic Theater Company, where “The Band’s Visit” had its world premiere. Like other cast standouts, such as Stachel, Cariani, Sieh, Benson, Polk and Alok Tewari, who plays a genteel clarinetist with an unfinished concerto at his fingertips, they have managed to metabolize these characters in ways you don’t ordinarily get to experience in a Broadway musical. The bonds between them are as intricately wrought as the gentle transitions from instrumental interludes to dialogue scenes. It’s a show, too, in which the awkward silences come to feel almost as narratively vital as the gorgeous songs.

Important, too, is this lovely fact: Politics plays virtually no role in “The Band’s Visit.” If you expect a musical about Jews and Arabs inevitably to be about unresolved hostility, then this one will broaden your perspective. Because surprise, surprise: We’re every one of us waiting in the desert for a little happiness.

‘The Band’s Visit’ Review: Musical, Magical Misunderstanding

The charming screen-to-stage story of a police orchestra that finds itself lost comes to Broadway with Tony Shaloub among its stars.

by Terry Teachout

The best musical of the year has made it to Broadway. After a successful but far too short off-Broadway run at the Atlantic Theater, “The Band’s Visit” has moved uptown with all of its wondrous charm and warmth intact. Directed with supreme finesse by David Cromer and performed by the best cast imaginable, this small-scale show is fine enough to fill you with fresh hope for a genre that has lately been running on fumes. In an era of slick, sterile, big-budget, no-but-I-saw-the-movie commodity musicals whose sole purpose is to siphon cash from tourists with ruthless efficiency, “The Band’s Visit” shows that the great American art form (give or take jazz) is still full of life when practiced by artists who trust the taste and intelligence of their audiences.

Adapted for the stage by Itamar Moses and David Yazbek from Eran Kolirin’s 2007 Israeli film, “The Band’s Visit” is the story of a fictional occurrence that was, as one of the characters readily admits, “not very important.” The eight members of the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra, it seems, have traveled to Israel from Egypt in order to perform at an Arab cultural center in the city of Petah Tikva. Such, at any rate, is their intention, but they’re sidetracked en route by a mispronounced consonant: Since there is no “p” sound in Arabic, most English-speaking Egyptians automatically replace that consonant with “b.” Slightly fractured English being the lingua franca of the modern-day Middle East, the musicians inadvertently find themselves in Bet Hatikva, a hopelessly provincial desert village whose cultural attractions consist of two restaurants, a roller rink, and a concrete “park” devoid of grass or trees.

In less knowing hands, this mishap might easily have been played for farce and nothing more. But while “The Band’s Visit” gets plenty of well-deserved laughs in its opening scenes, Messrs. Moses and Yazbek are hunting bigger game. We soon discover that the members of the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra and the bored residents of Bet Hatikva who spend their days “waiting for something to happen” all have something in common: They long for their little lives to be enlarged by love.

Some of the rest you can guess for yourself, but part of what makes “The Band’s Visit” so special is that it steers clear of the obvious. This is especially true when it comes to Tewfiq ( Tony Shalhoub ), the band’s conductor, and Dina ( Katrina Lenk ), the divorced café owner who offers to feed him and his men and put them up for the night. He’s rigidly proper, she’s tart-tongued and cynical, yet they’re both frustrated romantics under the skin. That’s the obvious part, and it is typical of “The Band’s Visit” that it leads to a denouement that will take you completely by surprise.

Mr. Moses, one of our best playwrights, has translated the screenplay of “The Band’s Visit” into musical-comedy terms with quiet skill. As for Mr. Yazbek’s songs, they’re a savory multicultural mixture of Egyptian pop music, Israeli klezmer and cool American jazz (two of the members of the band are Chet Baker fans), one so fresh-sounding that you can scarcely believe they’re being sung on a Broadway stage. His lyrics are just as good, especially “Something Different,” the bilingual duet in which Tewfiq haltingly hints in Arabic at his feelings for Dina, to which she responds in English by admitting that she, too, feels “something new I didn’t notice I’ve been hoping for / Nothing is as beautiful as something that you don’t expect.”

Mr. Shalhoub and Ms. Lenk play their parts with irresistibly persuasive conviction—a feat all the more impressive given that they’re both required to speak and sing in thick foreign accents—and the other members of the cast are similarly convincing. Four members of the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra are real-life musicians, and their onstage playing is blended so subtly with that of the marvelous pit band that you won’t always be sure who’s doing what. Mr. Cromer’s contribution to the proceedings is, if possible, even more subtle: He’s staged “The Band’s Visit” on a turntable set designed by Scott Pask that wafts you from scene to scene so naturally that you’ll feel as though you’re making your own way through the streets of Bet Hatikva. The actions of the cast mirror the show’s emotions with uncanny precision (notice, for instance, how furiously Ms. Lenk chops up a watermelon as she explains how she met her ex-husband when she was “romantic and young and stupid”).

Yes, “The Band’s Visit” is a bit of a fairy tale, suggesting as it does that the knotty travails of the Middle East can all be undone with a little bit of love. But this particular fairy tale is one in which it is pure happiness to believe, at least for the length of a night on Broadway, so let yourself wallow in the sweet hopefulness of “The Band’s Visit.” You won’t regret it.

How ‘The Band’s Visit’ turns song, speech and silence into stage poetry

By Charles McNulty

Where do new musicals come from? For a while, the answer regularly seemed to be pop-music catalogs and movies guaranteed to put baby boomers in a nostalgic mood. Broadway became the great cultural recycle bin, a place where small imaginations could turn big profits.

In recent years, however, some of the most memorable new shows have sprung from the most unlikely of places. “Fun Home” was adapted from Alison Bechdel’s extraordinary graphic novel about growing up as a lesbian with a closeted gay father. “Hamilton,” Lin-Manuel Miranda’s game-changer, was inspired from, of all things, Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton. And “Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812” was derived from a slice of Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace.”

Add “The Band’s Visit,” the exquisite new musical by composer-lyricist David Yazbek and playwright Itamar Moses, to the list of shows spun from improbable sources. Although it’s based on the screenplay for writer-director Eran Kolirin’s 2007 Israeli film, the show is hardly another instance of a movie being redeployed on stage for commercial gain.

For one thing, “The Band’s Visit,” which had its world premiere last year off-Broadway at Atlantic Theater Company’s Linda Gross Theater, isn’t a title to lure in the tourist hordes. For another, the show is far too artisanal for the Broadway assembly line.

The premise of the musical, set in 1996, doesn’t exactly scream “blockbuster.” A group of Egyptian musicians representing the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra gets stranded in a sleepy Israeli town after a pronunciation mistake sends them to Bet Hatikva instead of Petah Tikva, where they’ve been invited to perform at the Arab Cultural Center.

One letter can apparently make all the difference. In the song “Welcome to Nowhere,” Dina (Katrina Lenk), a cafe proprietor with a slinky feline manner, explains in her charmingly rough-hewn English that everybody loves Petah Tikva — “lots of fun, lots of art, lots of culture.” Bet Hativka, on the other hand, is “boring,” “barren” and “bland.”

Dina feels a pang of sympathy for the nonplussed band members, who won’t be able to catch a bus to their destination until the next day. She invites a couple of the men to say overnight at her apartment, offers the cafe as lodging to a few others and enjoins Itzik (John Cariani), a full-time idler, to take in the remainder.

Col. Tewfiq (Tony Shalhoub), the solemnly dignified commander of the band, has no choice but to modestly accept her offer. He orders Haled (Ari’el Stachel), the romantic trumpet player obsessed with Chet Baker, to accompany him so that he can keep a close eye on the moony young man whose imperfect English is what led to their depending on the hospitality of strangers.

A sequence of titles projected during the overture sets the musical’s languorously sportive tone: “Once not long ago / A group of musicians came to Israel from Egypt.” These introductory lines are detonated with a kicker: “You probably didn’t hear about it. / It wasn’t very important.”

“The Band’s Visit” could be said to lack eventfulness. But something significant does occur during the orchestra’s unplanned excursion to Bet Hatikva: life. The rhythm of the storytelling is cinematic, but the musical kept evoking for me Anton Chekhov’s plays set in Russian backwaters, where an interruption in the boring, isolating routine of the characters suddenly opens a window onto their common humanity.

Movement is stylized in David Cromer’s lyrical staging. The effect is to make us aware of time operating both lazily, as the band members while away the hours in a strange land, and momentously, as the larger chronology of the lives of these Egyptian visitors and their Israeli hosts is thrown into relief by the encounter.

Moses’ book hews closely to the film. Dina offers to show Tewfiq the town at night. Her flirtatious manner makes him wary, but he’s too courteous to say no. She uses their outing to jealously antagonize a married man with whom she’s been carrying on, but she also wants to connect with this reserved gentleman who appears to be stoically bearing some terrible burden.

Their story unfolds alternately with Haled’s humorous night out at a disco roller rink with awkward Israeli singles. The musical also cuts regularly to the goings-on at Itzik’s home, where Simon (Alok Tewari), a devoted clarinetist who would also like to conduct, has found himself at the birthday dinner of Itzik’s weary wife, Iris (Kristen Sieh). She has lost patience with her unemployed husband, whose easygoing nature may be too close to that of her father, Avrum (Andrew Polk), a good-natured musician who performs at weddings and bar mitzvahs.

Politics are peripheral to what transpires in these cross-cultural interactions, but it’s not as if anyone needs reminders of Middle East history. Something else takes precedence: In the company of strangers, the characters begin to see themselves anew. The sacred honor of hospitality compels patience and presence, but it’s music that ultimately dismantles barriers.

The score by Yazbek, whose Broadway work includes “The Full Monty” and “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” is an insinuating mix of klezmer and American jazz, Egyptian folk and classical Arab strains, with a fleck or two of Kurt Weill. Nothing is lost in translation while instruments are played and voices take flight.

When Dina discovers the sources of grief in Tewfiq’s life, she asks him to sing to her the Arabic song he performed the night he met his wife. After Itzik and Iris have a heated argument, Simon comforts their child by playing the unfinished concerto he started as a budding musician before fatherhood imposed on him a new set of responsibilities. Haled dispenses romantic advice to Papi (Etai Benson) in song — Romeo temporarily assuming the role of a selfless Cyrano de Bergerac in solidarity with love.

Humor mingles freely with melancholy. The Telephone Guy (Adam Kantor) stands vigil at a pay phone, hurrying others away as he waits for his girl to call with the perseverance of Vladimir and Estragon in “Waiting for Godot.” When Iris apologizes to her guest for her series of emotional outbursts at Itzik, Simon reassuringly tells her, “I am married 20 years.”

“The Band’s Visit” is more music drama than splashy musical. Bells and whistles aren’t needed to rouse the audience. I was slightly resistant at first to the show’s lackadaisical rhythm, but I succumbed in short order to the poetic delicacy. More compact than “Fun Home,” “Hamilton” and “Great Comet,” this 90-minute show is every bit as resonant and original.

The ensemble brings fresh idiosyncrasy to the roles, with Lenk and Shalhoub making silence as potent as song and speech. When Dina asks Tewfiq to describe what it is like to be standing before his orchestra, he answers by conducting an invisible music that Dina begins to respond to with her own expressive gestures. The stage picture is worth more than a symphony of words.

At a time when politics is dividing us not only from each other but also from ourselves, “The Band’s Visit,” the best musical of 2017, offers balm for the breach in our souls.

In ‘The Band’s Visit’ on Broadway, a cultural divide comes to a small Israeli town

By Chris Jones

“Once nce, not long ago,” says a character in a weird new Broadway musical, “a group of musicians came to Israel from Egypt. You probably didn’t hear about it. It was not important.”

But the premise of “The Band’s Visit” at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, scored by David Yazbek, penned by Itamar Moses, directed by David Cromer and closely based on Eran Kolirin’s relatively obscure Israeli film from 2007, is that this character, this Dina, lies.

It was important. It is important. It has to be important.

Why? Well, this is the rare musical that understands that although the international enmity that dominates our tawdry collective time on this planet mostly is cultural, most of us actually live in towns with hardly any culture at all.

And even if a band from abroad arrives by mistake in some provincial nowhere (hey, it is easy to screw up the name of a destination), even if you might suddenly be able to stand in your cafe or stultifying town square and hear an earnest fellow from far away put his lips to a trumpet and blow like Chet Baker, you probably are too weighed down, used up, weary, distracted and aged to enjoy the full sensorial dimension of the man, the art and the experience.

Unless you rise to the moment.

Of course, most great musicals are about characters rising to the moment to escape into the mountains, find their love, pursue their urban dreams, whatever sends us out whistling a tune. “The Band’s Visit” — the “Friday Night Lights” of Broadway musicals — understands that most lives are lived on the sidelines, and that moments become heavyweight sacks of oppression. They can’t be shook off. Not for long, anyway.

That’s how the elites keep the rest of the world in its place. They push people away from the cultural centers, then make their lives so hard that their emotional openness closes up by necessity. Then they enlist everyone in their wars. That is what “The Band’s Visit” is all about. It is about not much, which means it is about a whole lot, since life usually is not much.

New Yorkers will admire this piece and thank God for their own centrality. But if you’ve spent your life in a small town and regretted it, be scared of wandering into “The Band’s Visit.” It may confirm all your worst fears of yourself.

So. The Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra, run by Tewfig (Tony Shalhoub) and looking like something from Monty Python, takes a wrong turn to the wrong Israeli town, a place that not only lacks an Arab cultural center, but also an Israeli culture center (you see the show’s thesis). Tewfig finds himself in a cafe run by Dina (Katrina Lenk), and you feel Yazbek’s score dangle, formatively and emotionally, the chance of romance or at least a fling. But you quickly see there is so much in the way. Soon, the strangers in the night are singing not about changing glances, but about confusion, impediment and the total inability of the one to know the other.

Like much in this show, it is an achingly sad moment. You find yourself wanting to jump on a stage like some godly timekeeper and roll back life for these characters, in order for them to pursue the more usual musical trajectory of a romance that unlocks. Here, the hour hand has made one too many turns of the dial.

Typically unstinting in his Chicago-honed artistry of peeling away layers of human defense, Cromer treats this musical as merely a play with music — the line between dialogue and song has no delineation, really, since there are no ballads of unleashed joy here, just questions and thoughts and, I suppose, the odd hope, all made musical so distinctively by Yazbek. It is as if he has shaken off all the shallow commercial obligations of his past and found himself as a composer, as a human being, right here in the middle of nowhere.

Moses’ book is droll enough that the show has comedy, but it is not a comedy (nor was the film). It is observational and philosophical. Quite breathtakingly so.

The revelation of this cultural exchange gone wrong is that once you exchange culture, you can find that nether side has anything to exchange. Bar themselves. Themselves being alike, their Arab, Israeli, whatever identity, whatever ethnicity, whatever religion all subsumed by the provincial and the middle-aged. Stuff we all feel alike.

You see the whole band rattling around the town: a place where a young guy sits by a pay phone hoping a girl will call, or a couple tend to their baby and try to hold it together, just like a family in New Jersey. (Cromer directs the piece as an ensemble, painting his pictures on Scott Pask’s cleareyed set with John Cariani, Ari’el Stachel, George Abud, Etai Benson, Adam Kantor, Andrew Polk, Bill Army, Rachel Prather, Jonathan Raviv, Sharone Sayegh, Kristen Sieh and Alok Tewari.) Some of these lyrics are intensely profound and the show truly has a sound all its own, a collision of what the Alexandrian Ceremonial Police Orchestra would be expected to play and what it would want to play. If it were free to do so, although it is too late for any of that.


“The Band’s Visit’ is only 90 minutes. For some, it will seem like a strange and esoteric Broadway musical, which is not wrong. There is no mention of any macro Arab-Israeli conflict whatsoever. No need. This is a remarkable and boundlessly compassionate and humanistic piece of theater. It lets us know that that is as absurd an enmity as all the other things about which we fight.

Theater Review: The Band’s Visit Finds Strength in Its Smallness

By Sara Holdren

There’s a saying: There are only two kinds of stories — someone goes on a journey, or a stranger comes to town. (Who said it? Unclear.) If that’s true—at least it’s intriguing!—it seems to me that novels are particularly well suited to the first type of narrative, while the latter often makes brilliant plays. On the one hand, The Hobbit. On the other, The Music Man. No wonder then that The Band’s Visit, now playing at the Barrymore after a triumphant off-Broadway run at Atlantic Theater Company last season, makes such a beautiful piece of theater. It’s a rare beast: a musical with zero razzle-dazzle, adapted from a delicate indie film (Israeli director and screenwriter Eran Kolirin’s 2007 feature of the same name), where none of the performers dance with Fosse flair or sing with the traditional glossy Broadway belt, where intimate character study replaces high drama and silences are as important as language. Director David Cromer, book writer Itamar Moses, and composer/lyricist David Yazbek are clearly unified in their pursuit of the specific and the humane over the grandiose. Together they’ve created a play of deep integrity — funny, generous, sweet without sentimentality, poignant without melodrama, and emotionally expansive even as it insists upon its own smallness.

“Once not long ago,” reads a projected title at the start of the show, “a group of musicians came to Israel from Egypt. You probably didn’t hear about it. It wasn’t very important.” The strangers who come to town are the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra, whom we first encounter standing hesitantly at attention in an Israeli bus station, painfully obvious in their powder blue uniforms (the thoughtful costumes, with their delightful little 1990s flourishes, are by Sarah Laux). The town is Bet Hatikva — “With a ‘B’.” The band, it turns out, was searching for Petah Tikva (“With a ‘P’”), a bustling metropolis with “lots of fun, lots of art, lots of culture” where they’ve been invited to play a concert at the Arab Cultural Center. But when you don’t speak Hebrew, the two town names sound practically identical (and Arabic has no ‘P’ sound), and so the Egyptians have ended up on the wrong bus — only to arrive in a city whose residents describe it with bone-dry hilarity in the song “Welcome to Nowhere”:

Stick a pin in a map of the desert
Build a road to the middle of the desert
Pour cement on the spot in the desert
That’s Bet Hatikva.

Of course in a “basically bleak and beige and blah blah blah” town like this, there’s not another bus till morning. Our strangers are stranded — their stuckness brilliantly underscored by Scott Pask’s elegantly layered, sandy-hued set. Though the theater’s walls are painted to evoke swirling expanses of desert sky, the back wall has a drab little window and satellite dish installed in it. The effect is almost Truman Show-esque: The sky is quite literally the limit. The world has walls. The actual desert might stretch off infinitely in all directions, but the residents of Bet Hatikva live their lives inside a box.

Inside this box, The Band’s Visit unfolds over the course of a single night, shifting gently amongst encounters silly and sad and bittersweet, as the Arab musicians and their provincial Israeli hosts move tentatively towards each other, from breaking bread to sharing secrets, suffering, and—most profound of all—music.

David Yazbek’s exquisite, exuberant score, rich with Arabic classical influences, is brought to life not only by a small and mighty offstage orchestra, but on stage by the eponymous band: three stellar actor-musicians and four more world-class instrumentalists, playing everything from oud and darbouka to cello, clarinet, and violin. In a profession that loves to talk about risk but seldom truly takes one, The Band’s Visit is quietly modeling real theatrical and musical courage. Its sound—dense and atmospheric and drawn from a non-Western musical idiom—is utterly distinctive on Broadway. It features numbers that are entirely instrumental, not to mention sequences of nightly improvisation by the superb musicians. There is no intermission, which means no big first act finale. The closest thing in the show to an 11 o’clock number is the heart-wrenching “Answer Me,” a song begun with a deep, steady sense of ache by Adam Kantor in a role known only as “Telephone Guy.” (In The Band’s Visit, even the people without names feel whole, human.)

Telephone Guy spends his nights staring into the flickering sodium light of Bet Hatikva’s one public payphone, waiting for a call from his girlfriend. “Very soon. Very soon. That’s the sound of longing,” he sings, and gradually his song spreads throughout the full ensemble. But even as their voices rise together, the actors remain solitary, isolated in little patches of light, staring out into the darkness. Their song is an anthem to loneliness, to the hunger for connection and the pain of hope. The single thundering, shimmering moment in which we hear every voice in The Band’s Visit ring out at full forte together for the first time is a brief one — an echo almost before we have a chance to exhale.

The Band’s Visit itself is a kind of astonishing, unreleased inhalation. Its characters are so full—of desires, fears, uncertainties, suffering—and Cromer allows each one sparkling moments of vulnerability and revelation without the sappy satisfaction of complete catharsis. He’s deftly striking an almost Chekhovian tone here: at once clinically observant and deeply humane. He—and we—can laugh at these characters (as for instance in “Papi Hears the Ocean,” a tragicomic masterpiece of teenage anxiety delivered with befuddled, hilarious angst by the excellent Etai Benson as Papi), but that laughter never feels unkind.

Fullest of all the yearning souls in Bet Hatikva is Dina, the café owner whose wry, decisive word seems to pass for law in these parts (when she invites the strangers to stay, they’re staying). As Dina, Katrina Lenk gives a gorgeous performance, her whole body writhing with unanswered hungers and her voice as rich and textured as sea salt in dark chocolate. As she sings in the show’s most ravishing number, “Omar Sharif,” an ode to glamorous foreign film stars who opened up her childhood to the dream of romance:

Every day you stare to the west, to the south,
You can see for miles but things never change,
Then honey in your ears, spice in your mouth —
Nothing’s as surprising as the taste of something strange.

Dina longs for something to happen — something that frees the wild longings that make her spine twist and her arms dance even when all she’s doing is sitting on a park bench. She senses real connection in the band’s reserved conductor Tewfiq—the wonderful Tony Shalhoub, disappearing into a performance as heartbreaking in its secret shadows as it is amusing in its straight-laced foibles—but she’ll end up sleeping with the handsome trumpet-player Haled (the sensitive, self-aware Ari’el Stachel, whose deliciously humorous attempts at flirtation contain their own bitter pill: he’s got an arranged marriage waiting for him back in Egypt). The familiarity of it all both stings and sooths: How many of us have felt longing pushing at the very insides of our skin? How many of us have reached out in our loneliness and taken the thing that’s there, even if only for a moment, an hour, a night?

Americans are obsessed with happiness. We think we deserve it, that we’re owed it. But travel east and that self-important philosophy begins to dissipate. The Band’s Visit is in many ways a play about unhappiness — but that doesn’t mean it’s about despair. Far from it. In fact, in both form and content, the show gave me more hope for what Broadway might welcome, might foster, might become than any musical in a long time. It’s a deceptively radical jasmine wind blowing through a stuffy room, bringing with it the possibility of change.

The Band’s Visit is at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre.

‘The Band’s Visit’: Theater Review

by David Rooney

Katrina Lenk and Tony Shalhoub share a quasi-romantic connection in the desert in this Middle Eastern musical by David Yazbek and Itamar Moses, based on the 2007 Israeli film.

One of the small miracles of The Band’s Visit is that this wistful new musical — in which themes of waiting, yearning and inertia play a significant part — weaves such seduction out of ephemeral encounters unfolding over a single uneventful night. As soothing as a cool breeze across desert sands, this gorgeous, minor-key show won a deserved cluster of awards in its premiere late last year at the Atlantic Theater Company. It transfers to Broadway with its delicate alchemy intact, borne aloft by the intoxicating Middle-Eastern rhythms of David Yazbek’s original score, and by the soulful performances of an exemplary ensemble.

In terms of its small-scale unconventionality, David Cromer’s superbly directed production continues the trend of shows like Once and Fun Home, which have expanded the parameters for musicals on Broadway in recent years, telling quiet, emotionally resonant stories that steer the form down surprising paths. By necessity, the performances, at least initially, appear to have gotten a fraction bigger in the transition from a 200-seat off-Broadway house to one four times that size. But none of the hushed intimacy, the subtlety or nuance of this narratively spare piece has been lost.

Adapting Israeli screenwriter-director Eran Kolirin’s 2007 film of the same name, composer-lyricist Yazbek, book writer Itamar Moses and director Cromer amusingly address the paucity of what would traditionally be considered plot with three lines of introductory text projected on a scrim: “Once not long ago a group of musicians came to Israel from Egypt. You probably didn’t hear about it. It wasn’t very important.” But from that self-effacing setup is woven a richly humanistic portrait of intangible but meaningful connections. It’s a story of Jews and Arabs in which politics and religion play no part; instead the show, with disarming simplicity and directness, contemplates people from different cultures thrust together in a literal nowhere, touching one another’s lives in ways both ordinary and illuminating. It’s less a culture clash than a caress.

The story begins at an airport bus station, where the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra, led with the utmost seriousness and professionalism by starchy conductor Tewfiq (Tony Shalhoub), is en route to the opening of an Arab Cultural Center where they have been invited to perform. But trumpet player Haled (Ari’el Stachel), who fancies himself a heartbreaker in the Chet Baker mold, gets distracted by the attractive woman behind the ticket counter. That and a tricky consonant land them not at their planned destination of Petah Tikvah, but in a remote desert town called Bet Hatikva.

The evocative spell of Yazbek’s sinuous melodies and droll lyrics are apparent from the opening song, “Waiting,” which introduces the inhabitants of that sleepy fictional outpost as they mark time in their dreary existence. “Sometimes it feels like we’re moving in a circle/Around and around with the same scenery going by,” one of them sings as he does exactly that in a funny sight gag, slowly propelled by the central turntable of Scott Pask’s sand-hued set. Tyler Micoleau’s ethereal lighting completes the vivid picture.

Front and center among the villagers, by sheer force of personality, is willowy local café owner Dina (Katrina Lenk), a sultry beauty who’s been around the block a few times, disappointment written across her face. When the police musicians arrive in their crisp powder-blue uniforms, they look almost like a surreal mirage. Welcoming the interruption to deadening routine, Dina sets them straight about the travel mix-up, and given that there are no more buses until morning, she organizes accommodations for them for the night.

Onstage band members provide transitional music between scenes that gives a graceful fluidity to the interactions of various Bet Hatikvans and their guests. Clarinetist Simon (Alok Tewari), who got stuck after the opening bars of an unfinished concerto, and violinist Camal (George Abud) are put up in the home of unemployed slacker Itzik (John Cariani) and his unhappy wife Iris (Kristen Sieh). Over dinner with Iris’ widowed father Avrum (Andrew Polk), tensions in the marriage flare, with Iris storming out in what seems a regular occurrence, while Itzik gives an apologetic shrug. By contrast, Avrum’s song, “The Beat of Your Heart,” is among the more rousing numbers, recalling the first rush of love as if it were yesterday.

Haled tags along to give romantic advice to terminally shy Papi (Etai Benson), who approaches a double date at the local roller disco with an air of grim defeat. That scene change is accompanied to hilarious effect by a blast of Boney M.’s “Sunny,” while Papi’s slick alpha pal Zelger (Bill Army) zooms into view on his skates, arms raised high in triumphant self-worship. In the melancholy “Papi Hears the Ocean,” Benson sings plaintively of the sounds of the Dead Sea in Papi’s head when he tries to talk to girls, while his new friend responds with “Haled’s Song About Love,” a cool, jazzy pep talk, naturally delivered in a feathery Chet Baker whisper.

The show’s chief focus is the tender encounter of Dina and Tewfiq, whom she persuades to accompany her for dinner and an evening stroll. The divine Lenk (seen last season in Indecent) is simply wonderful as Dina’s world-weary numbness gives way to sly flirtation and then to dreamy romantic longing when she recalls the Egyptian songs and movies of her youth in “Omar Sharif.” While she’s loose-limbed and languid, Shalhoub’s Tewfiq remains stiff-backed and formal, though increasingly courtly in his reserved way. When she asks him to describe the sensation of creating music with the orchestra, and to sing for her in Arabic, the hesitant attraction between them is as moving as the distance holding them apart.

Shalhoub has possibly never been better, his every tiny gesture and brief glance revealing something of Tewfiq’s broken pride, his self-censure and his deep sadness and regret, all of which he reluctantly lays out for Dina, while never abandoning his careful composure. No less affecting is her descent from a momentary cloud as she returns to empty reality. The harmony of these two key performances, and the way the characters melt toward one another, even just for an instant, is exquisite.

Itamar Moses tackled similarly adventurous material for a musical in the under-appreciated jewel The Fortress of Solitude, co-written with composer Michael Friedman, who died tragically this fall. Here, the book writer works again with great sensitivity, threading gentle humor, moments of aching romance, glimmers of sadness and joy and piercing loneliness throughout to give the slender story real texture.

Director Cromer and the actors respond accordingly; the entire ensemble is attuned to the show’s quiet observations, and its unusual, funny-sad sensibility, generating performances that seem understated even when the characters are at their most forceful. Particular standouts, in addition to Lenk and Shalhoub, include Cariani’s Itzik, a sweet-natured, unassuming man, painfully aware that his dissatisfied wife regards him as an arrested adolescent, yet still helpless to change his nature — “just drifting along,” as he sings at one point. His lullaby to their sleeping child is lovely. And Stachel is an absolute charmer, uncovering unexpected depths in smooth-talking Haled.

It seems appropriate in an ensemble piece with so many finely etched characters that the stirring final song goes to one not even given a name. Identified only as Telephone Guy (Adam Kantor), he waits by the pay phone like a sentinel for his girlfriend to call, singing the passionate entreaty “Answer Me,” which evolves with the full company into a heartfelt collective expression of longing for love in the darkness. It brings the show to a poignant emotional crescendo. And it seems both generous and fitting that after the actors take their final bows, the musicians return to the stage alone to close with an exhilarating burst of upbeat music in which each instrumentalist gets his own virtuoso solo.

The Band’s Visit is a sweet, haunting stopover in the desert: EW stage review

Tony Shalhoub and Katrina Lenk star in the musical about Egyptians stranded in a tiny Israeli town


The Arabic language doesn’t have an equivalent to the English letter “p” in its alphabet.

That might have something to do with why an Egyptian military band traveling to Israel for a performance accidentally arrives not in the metropolitan Petah Tikvah, but instead in the (fictional) Bet Hatikva, a tiny dot of concrete in the middle of the Negev desert — that’s Bet Hatikva, with a “b,” as in “blah, blah, blah.”

With no hotels and no bus out until the next morning, Bet Hatikva residents agree to allow the the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra, all dressed in their robins-egg blue military-style uniforms, to stay for the night.

For a musical centered on an unexpected collision of a group of Egyptians and a group of Israelis, there is almost no talk of politics in The Band’s Visit. No one mentions religion or war. The centuries of geopolitical conflict underlying the story’s premise are like a metaphorical held breath —and the show itself is a slow, easy exhale. This is a musical about people, not countries.

Many of the strongest scenes come directly from Eran Kolirin’s 2007 film of the same name, including the memorable moment in which the band’s Chet Baker-loving ladies man is able to wordlessly instruct the awkward Papi on the art of seduction. But everything is elevated by David Yazbek’s (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown) haunting music and deadpan lyrics that perfectly capture the Israeli humor that made the original movie such a favorite among critics and viewers.

In her role as Dina, the owner of a cafe in town, Katrina Lenk (Indecent) is dazzling. It’s her gestures, down to the way she cuts watermelon or arches one eyebrow, that stay with you after the curtain falls, even if her chemistry with the wonderfully buttoned-up bandleader Tewfiq (Tony Shalhoub) seems a bit asymmetrical. “Dark and thrilling, strange and sweet,” Lenk sings about her childhood fascination with Egyptian culture, her voice embodying everything she fantasized about.

But perhaps the most important character in The Band’s Visit might be the unnamed Israeli boy who stands by the one payphone in town, waiting all night for his girlfriend to call, his desperate face illuminated by its harsh fluorescent. This is a play about waiting, and loneliness, and the human need to connect with another human, even if it’s someone separated by a one-way telephone call that might not happen. The show itself leaves the audience waiting, in some ways, for the type of climax that never comes. There are no elaborately choreographed dance sequences or dramatic betrayals or plot twists. The only revelation is that there are no revelations; that humans and their petty, internal concerns, their hopes and failures, are worthy enough to sing about.

“Once, not long ago, a group of musicians came to Israel from Egypt. You probably didn’t hear about it. It wasn’t very important,” the musical begins. And so what are we left with as audience members after spending an hour and a half in the company of people simply meeting and listening to music and spending time together before parting ways? The sound of Lenk’s mellifluous voice, the tiny Israeli details, the flickers of emotion that challenge Tewfiq’s restraint. The audience is left like the characters are left after the night of the band’s visit in Bet Hatikvah: the same, ostensibly, but with the world colored slightly differently.

The Band’s Visit is understated, probably better described as charming than life-altering, but its scale reinforces the moral themes of the musical itself. Nothing very important happens, no. A boy learns how to talk to girls, a woman recognizes the ways in which she’s become stuck, a couple breaks apart and comes together again. Some of these humans who have lost things and who are lost themselves happen to be Arab, and some happen to be Israeli. It’s a quiet, beautiful thing The Band’s Visit does, and while I wished there had been more something — more emotional payoff, or catharsis — I also recognize that that’s sort of the point. A-

“The Band’s Visit” Translates Those Muted, Indie-Film Longings to Broadway

By Michael Schulman

Who knew that hospitality had such dramatic potential? The surprise hit on Broadway last season was “Come from Away,” a musical about the thousands of airline passengers who were stranded in the tiny town of Gander, Newfoundland, on 9/11. The show’s uplifting message, in these xenophobic times, is that people can just get along—though it helps if half of them are folksy Canadians. “The Band’s Visit,” which has just opened at the Ethel Barrymore, after premièring at the Atlantic Theatre Company, is also about a group of foreigners crashing for the night in a dead-end town, but it is set in Israel, and the hospitality is considerably more stone-faced.

Based on an Israeli film of the same name, from 2007, the musical has a wisp of a plot. The Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra, outfitted in nifty powder-blue uniforms and conducted by Tewfiq (Tony Shalhoub), is on its way to a gig in the Israeli city of Petah Tikva, a place cosmopolitan enough that it has an Arab Cultural Center. After a mixup at the train station, the musicians wind up in the less lively Bet Hatikva, in the middle of the Negev Desert. Imagine getting booked at Carnegie Hall and winding up in Manhattan, Kansas, and you start to see their dilemma. At a dinky café that appears to be the only game in town (apart from a uniquely pitiful roller disco), three locals spell things out:

Stick a pin in a map of the desert.
Build a road to the middle of the desert.
Pour cement on the spot in the desert.
That’s Bet Hatikva.

As “welcome to our town!” numbers go, it’s a far cry from “You really ought to give Iowa a try,” from “The Music Man.” Give credit to David Yazbek, who wrote the beguiling music and lyrics (the spare and shrewd book is by Itamar Moses), for setting overwhelming boredom to a catchy tune. The director, David Cromer, supplies similarly deadpan stage business, as one of the customers spins a lazy Susan on a café table, then spins it the other way, as if showing off the only tourist attraction in sight. Needless to say, there is no Arab Cultural Center in Bet Hatikva.

There isn’t a bus out until the next day, so the townsfolk agree to put up the Egyptians for the night, splitting them up among several households. Tewfiq and his trumpet player, Haled (Ari’el Stachel), wind up with Dina, the café’s proprietress. Dina has as dry stare and a drier wit, and she’s immune to Haled’s go-to pickup line, “Do you like Chet Baker?” (Her answer: “No.”) That Dina should become our portal into Bet Hatikva’s undercurrent of longing would seem unlikely, if not for the fact that she’s played by Katrina Lenk, the musical’s not-so-secret weapon. Lenk, a standout in Paula Vogel’s “Indecent,” bears a passing resemblance to Angelina Jolie, without a drop of the self-seriousness, and conveys a sense of conviction that seems utterly Israeli, even though Lenk is from Illinois. She decisively takes over the musical six songs in, when Dina brings Tewfiq to a fluorescent-lit cafeteria and they get to talking about his home country. At the mention of Oum Kalthoum, the Egyptian chanteuse, Dina gets a faraway look in her eyes. She recounts, in song, her girlhood memories of Kalthoum’s voice coming through her mother’s radio, and of Omar Sharif’s image on the TV screen:

Dark and thrilling, strange and sweet,
Cleopatra and a handsome thief.
And they floated in
On a jasmine wind,
Oum Kalthoum and Omar Sharif.

Lenk is not unlike a fragrant breeze herself as she sings this song, infusing the previously stoic atmosphere of the show with a gust of warmth. She’s a radiant presence. Shalhoub, meanwhile, is a marvel of restraint, speaking volumes with what few English words Tewfiq knows. (Recall what he and Stanley Tucci pulled off with no words and a frittata, at the end of “Big Night.”) Dina and Tewfiq have more than music in common—both were once married, and still nurse wounds—but music is what loosens them up just enough to see each other as something more than acquaintances by necessity.

You may wonder, at this point, if there’s a metaphor lurking behind this bond between Arab and Israeli, but, thankfully, the musical doesn’t go there. Last season’s Tony winner for Best Play, J. T. Rogers’s “Oslo,” gave the impression that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could be solved if only both sides could be plied with enough herring. If “The Band’s Visit” has political undertones, they’re buried deep enough to be imperceptible. Instead, we get the glorious nothingness of an uneventful night in the middle of nowhere. As Tewfiq and Dina get to know each other, Haled teaches the town doofus how to flirt, while another band member helps lull a baby to sleep. Out on the street, a loner identified only as Telephone Guy (Adam Kantor) waits all night at a pay phone, hoping that his girlfriend might call. In the morning, the musicians leave.

Such minimalist material requires tremendous trust and patience, and Cromer, who burst onto the New York theatre scene in 2009, with his inspired staging of “Our Town,” has both, letting the story’s emotional music find its way to the surface. Plot-wise, “The Band’s Visit” is a show about nothing, but it fills the stage with feeling—the muted kind that dwells in missed connections and half-remembered tunes. Its theatrical cousin, more than “Come from Away,” may be “Once,” which won the 2012 Tony for Best Musical. Both shows started downtown, both feature actor-instrumentalists, and both are based on low-budget films in which two strangers meet by chance, commune through music, and then part ways, their mutual affection left unspoken. It takes extraordinary skill to open films like those up to the Broadway stage without spoiling their reticence. “The Band’s Visit” doesn’t quite shake its cinematic roots—you can still sense the understated quirkiness of an indie film—but it succeeds on the strength of its cast and creators, who know exactly what, and when, to hold back. We’re left wondering what significance the orchestra’s time in Bet Hatikva will have for the characters, but one thing is certain: they’d never fess up to it. “Once, not long ago, a group of musicians came to Israel, from Egypt,” Dina says after the band departs, retreating back to her café and her poker face. “You probably didn’t hear about it. It wasn’t very important.”

Review: Last Season’s Best Musical ‘The Band’s Visit’ Re-Opens On Broadway

By Jeremy Gerard

Feed your soul: Go see The Band’s Visit. Now that this exquisite musical has moved uptown to Broadway – it opened tonight at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre – I can make that recommendation with only one caveat, which is to spring for center orchestra seats, but more about that later. The rare film-to-musical adaptation that enhances the source material, The Band’s Visit has stayed with me in the year since it opened off-Broadway at the Atlantic Theater Company, like a dream from which I never wanted to awaken.

Based on Eran Kolirin’s disarming 2007 Israeli comedy of the same name, the show features a beautiful score by David Yazbek, the crazy-gifted composer/lyricist of Dirty Rotten ScoundrelsThe Full Monty and Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown. The book, based on Kolirin’s screenplay, is by Itamar Moses who, with the late Michael Friedman, wrote the under-appreciated musical Fortress Of Solitude. David Cromer’s production and an incomparable ensemble led by Tony Shalhoub (Monk) and Katrina Lenk (in the second of two leading roles last season, which included her stunning turn in Indecent, set for broadcast November 17 on PBS’ “Great Performances” series), could not be bettered.

After a brief opening scene at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport, the show moves to its major setting, Bet Hatikvah, a desolate pinprick in the Negev desert. The Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra has traveled from Egypt to play for the grand opening of the Arab Cultural Center. Arriving at a café in what passes for the town center, they’re informed they’ve come to the wrong place.

“There is not Arab Center here,” Dina (Lenk) tells the orchestra’s leader, Tewfiq (Shalhoub). “No Arab Culture Center?” he asks in disbelief. “No,” she replies, adding with a barely concealed snipe that conveys remorse and contempt, “not culture, not Israeli culture, not Arab culture, not culture at all.” Much merriment is made of the difference between Bet Hatikvah and the band’s actual destination, Petah Tikvah, a city a few miles outside Tel Aviv. “Build a road to the middle of the desert,” Dina sings in “Welcome to Nowhere,” “pour cement on the spot in the desert, that’s Bet Hatikvah.”

So here the band is, some half a dozen strong, stuffed into Sergeant Pepper finery and lugging their instruments, with nowhere to go until another bus the next day. Scott Pasek’s set resembles nothing so much as a photo illustration from a catalogue for concrete. The dingy grays, washed out in Tyler Micoleau’s sun-bleached lighting, suggest this memorably unmemorable place without caricaturing it, as do Sara Laux’ unfussily elegant clothes.

Dina offers food and housing for the night, which the uptight and most formal Tewfiq declines, until the players intervene. Through broken English, the café family, along with a few other townspeople, negotiate détente, an overnight stay. At the center are Dina, toughened by disappointment yet not impervious to the challenge of these lost strangers, and Tewfiq, who has learned to cloak his own sadness in the carapace of officiousness.

In both their cases, the shells prove brittle and easily breached. Dina, persistent and all but jumping out of her skin with boredom, and Tewfiq, terrified of letting down his guard, slowly connect, a bonding beyond music that includes the films of Omar Sharif and most of all the discovery that disappointment needn’t equal death. Lenk, long-limbed and alluring, and Shalhoub, who excels at paying stiffs who are really just in need of revival, take their time tunneling into each other. In a compact 95-minute show that insists on not rushing anything, that’s a remarkable accomplishment.

Indeed, each character is carefully fleshed out over the course of the show’s single act. Ari’el Stachel is Haled, the trumpeter eager for extra-curricular activity (“Do you know Chet Baker?” is his pick-up line). He plays wing-man to the sexually inexperienced Papi (Etai Benson), a willing student. There are the young parents (John Cariani and Kristen Sieh) struggling with stasis. At a phone booth in the middle of the middle of nowhere, a man (Adam Kantor) waits, night after night, for a call from his beloved, flustered and anguished when anyone dares to make a call. And there is the band’s clarinetist, Simon (Alok Tewari), who plays the ethereal fragment of a concerto he can’t bring himself to finish. The melodic shard will evolve into a kind of spiritual offering.

Cromer (Our TownThe Adding Machine) is perhaps the most choreographic of today’s star directors, and The Band’s Visit flows as if in a seamless, tidal movement, like an ode (Patrick McCollum is the choreographer). Credit for this is also due to the astonishing musicianship of the band members, who play their instruments (filled out by a hidden orchestra), and Yazbek’s gorgeous score, a Broadway beauty suffused with Muslim sinuosity and percussion, like Moroccan seasoning sparking a familiar dish, as well as the soul-tugging reedy blues of Jewish klezmer .

As to that caveat I mentioned earlier: While many of my colleagues and I felt this was the best musical in a season that included Dear Evan Hansen and Come From Away, we also wondered how this intimate little show would transfer to a Broadway house. The Barrymore is not the right space for The Band’s Visit unless you’re down front, where they put the critics and the high rollers. I’m compelled to report that I’ve never received so many similar complaints from unhappy theatergoers given less favorable seats, especially in the balcony, who found the sound muddled and the sight lines limited. I have to wonder how many from the creative team have watched from those seats.

That said, my affection for the show is undiminished. The Band’s Visit begins and ends with these words: “Once, not long ago, a group of musicians came to Israel, from Egypt. You probably didn’t hear about it. It wasn’t very important.” Not true!

The Band’s Visit

By Adam Feldman


In a musical that is full of beautiful moments, perhaps the loveliest is the one shared on a plain park bench by Dina (Katrina Lenk), an Israeli café owner, and Tewfiq (Tony Shalhoub), an Egyptian bandleader stranded for the night in her uneventful desert town in 1996. As members of his ceremonial police orchestra play incidental music behind them, Dina asks Tewfiq how it feels to be a conductor. They each raise their arms, inhabiting an imagined experience together, and the music we have been hearing stops; what they feel is realer, and we are invited to imagine it with them.

To entrust such a moment to silence is an unusual choice for a musical. But The Band’s Visit, which feels even richer on Broadway than in its award-winning 2016 run at the Atlantic, is unconventionally wise. It is rare to encounter a show that has such a graceful sense of time. Itamar Moses’s book, adapted from a 2007 Israeli film, embraces the unspoken; the characters speak English as a second language, which gives the dialogue a tentative, searching quality that draws us closer. And David Yazbek’s Middle East–accented score, orchestrated by Jamshied Sharifi, includes not only wryly witty character songs but also joyous instrumentals for oud, cello, violin, clarinet and darbouka.

Lenk, who mixes languidly feline sensuality with knowing self-deprecation, is mesmerizing; her scenes with the courtly, soulful Shalhoub capture the awkward pleasure of lonely people reaching for genuine connection. Directed with David Cromer with an unblinking eye, the other actors sketch memorable portraits as well, including John Cariani as an unemployed manchild, Kristen Sieh as his seething wife, George Abud as a deadpan violinist (with a funny dangling cigarette) and Ari’el Stachel as a studly trumpeter on the make. (His pick-up line: “Do you know Chet Baker?”)

When we meet the Israelis, they are adrift on the central turntable of Scott Pask’s set, waiting for anything to happen—“just something different.” Bittersweet and built for adults, The Band’s Visit is certainly different from most modern musicals. Will Broadway audiences show it the hospitality it deserves? That’s the challenge this production offers, a line it draws gently in the shifting sand.

Broadway Review: ‘The Band’s Visit’

Seamless transfer of this heart-warming musical brings Tony Shalhoub and Katrina Lenk together in a drowsy Israeli village in the middle of the desert.

by Marilyn Stasio

The set’s a bit grander and the music sounds richer, but success hasn’t spoiled this embraceable musical fable about the surprising friendships that bloom in the middle of a political desert. In this Broadway transfer of an Off Broadway hit, human error sends an Egyptian military band to a depressed Israeli outpost in a desert wasteland — and human connections bring Arabs and Israelis together on common ground.

Tony Shalhoub remains steadfast as lovable Colonel Tewfiq Zakaria, the modest commander of the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra. The band was headed for the Arab Cultural Center in sophisticated Petah Tikvah, but was misdirected to Bet Hatikvah, a bleak little village in the middle of nowhere. Katrina Lenk is even more earth-shaking as Dina, the beautiful and incredibly vital café owner who is wasting away in Bet Hatikvah but comes alive when the band unexpectedly arrives in her little ghost town.

Broadway theatergoers looking for something off-the-beaten-musical-track should be charmed by this unassuming show, written by Itamar Moses (book) and David Yazbek (music & lyrics) and tenderly directed by David Cromer. But this disarming musical has the emotional depth that holds up to repeated viewings and the offbeat charm that could make it a cult hit.

“Once, not long ago, a group of musicians came to Israel from Egypt. You probably didn’t hear about it. It wasn’t very important.”  That unassuming statement, projected on the back wall of Scott Pask’s plain and simple (and amusing) set, is enough to grab the most jaded audience.

Actually, the visit turned out to be very important, on a universally human level. But not at first glance, when Tewfiq turns up at a bus station in Israel with his little band of musicians. The show’s musicians are onstage, trying to look like villagers, but members of that extraordinary band are occasionally called upon to pick up instruments of their own — and in some cases, play them very well.

Although the band is smartly outfitted in costumer Sarah Laux’s baby-blue ersatz-military uniforms, their government funding is in peril, and they absolutely must not screw up their assignment to perform at the initiation ceremony of the Arab Culture Center in Peta Tikva. The political and cultural significance of this mission weighs heavily on the fanatically steadfast Tewfiq, who stands ramrod straight (but is dying inside) in Shalhoub’s painfully honest performance.

Like other obsessive characters he has played, most notably Adrian Monk, the beloved OCD-wracked detective he inhabited for seven years on TV, Tewfiq transcends conventional character comedy. In Shalhoub’s hands, he is simultaneously funny and sad and a little bit crazy, and you absolutely have to love him.  When disaster strikes, Tewfiq stiffens his spine and stands straighter. And strike it does when the musicians are misdirected at the bus station. Instead of sophisticated Petah Tikvah, they find themselves in Bet Hatikvah, a dreary town in the middle of the desert.

Thanks to the revolving set and some quicksilver lighting changes by Tyler Micoleau, we can take in the whole town at a glance.  In “Waiting,” the first of the many nuanced (vaguely Arabic, vaguely Israeli, altogether enchanting) musical numbers in Yazbek’s wonderful score, the depressed residents are quick to tell the band what their uneventful life is like.  And in “Welcome to Nowhere,” Dina is joined by other disheartened residents to express their sense of isolation and their hopeless yearning for some kind of human connection.

With nowhere to go and nothing to do until the first bus arrives in the morning, the Egyptians are warily taken in by the Israelis, who reluctantly feed them, house them, and in one scene that is simply out of this world, entertain them at the circa 1970s roller rink.

No one exchanges a word about incendiary Arab-Israeli political matters, visitors and hosts slowly begin to acknowledge their common humanity. In “Hadid’s Song About Love” (sung with romantic intensity by Ari’el Stachel) the tall, handsome ladies’ man in the band takes pity on a young married man (endearing John Cariani) and shows him how to woo his wife.

There’s nothing big or grand here. Connections are made on little things, everyday things, common things we all share. The transcendent moment of the show comes when the so-called Telephone Guy (the fantastic Adam Kantor) makes one final, desperate effort to reach someone on that infuriatingly silent telephone.  “Can you answer me?” he begs. And the entire ensemble does exactly that.

Broadway’s ‘The Band’s Visit’ Is a Work of Perfection

By Rex Reed

“Perfection” is a word I almost never use anymore because, considering the second-rate quality of almost everything I review on stage and film, it’s a word that rarely applies to plays and movies. That’s why it’s so special to find the rare and joyous exception. And I do mean the fresh, happy and melodic new musical adaptation of writer-director Eran Kolirin’s acclaimed 2008 movie The Band’s Visit. Firmly embraced by rave reviews, it has opened at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on Broadway where, I am here to tell you, it’s the best thing in town.

In case you’re unlucky enough to have missed the film, The Band’s Visit is the one about eight musicians from Egypt invited to Israel to perform for the opening of an Arab Cultural Center. Naturally, they’re nervous about how they will be received, but since it’s a good-will concert for a worthy cause, they hope to represent their country with dignity. Nothing goes right. Tewfiq, the proud conductor of the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra is alarmed when the classical musicians arrive and there’s no welcoming committee at the airport to meet their plane. They are looking for a town called Petah Tiqva, but while Haled, the romantic violinist, becomes distracted flirting with a pretty ticket clerk, the musicians take the wrong bus to a remote village with a similar name called Beit Hatikvah, where they are forced to spend the night until they can take the next bus out the following morning, throwing themselves at the mercy of the villagers—a group of suspicious, distrustful Israelis, some of whom are less than sympathetic to strange Arab invaders.

Things change when a spirited and unconventional café owner named Dina becomes attracted to both Tewfiq and Haled, and a night of unexpected adventure begins. For the visiting Arabs, the Jewish food they are served is only so-so but the music they play is respected and admired by everybody. The Egyptians form liaisons with their hosts that lead to a new definition of cultural détente. And while the plot is thin, the music of the eight diverse musicians, carried by exotic tempos and thrilling meters of songs with ethnic roots, is blended to meet the demands of a Broadway musical comedy.

Directed with an easy rhythm of his own by David Cromer and featuring a sublime score by the multi-talented composer-lyricist David Yazbeck (The Full Monty, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels), this is a show that manages with great subtlety and appealing versatility to cover a lot of musical ground, enhanced by a carefully written book by Itamar Moses that reaches out to captivate a broad audience—proving in myriad ways why, despite the world’s cultural and political differences, nothing soothes, salvages or solves like music. It doesn’t matter if you’re from South America or Saudi Arabia—if you can play “Moon River,” someone will like you and want to hear more. Music makes peace in any language. Dina has never met an Egyptian in her life, but in the song “Omar Sharif” she demonstrates how everyone can love the same heart-throbs on the screen—with or without subtitles. Israeli or Arab, every parent knows a lullaby. From the quiet atmosphere of Dina’s café to the noise of the local club which a combination disco and skating rink, Scott Pask’s revolving platform of sets provide a series of locations that make you feel like you’re stranded overnight in Beit Hatikvah, too.

The cast is uniformly splendid. Katrina Lenk, with a mane of black hair and a defiant air of independence, is a lusty Dina. Veteran actor Tony Shalhoub is a proud, wise Tewfiq, the aging, experienced conductor who is still young enough to feel the draw of a vibrant, lonely woman in another country. A real highlight of the production is Ariel Stachel, the handsome ladies’ man violinist who tries to make friends by asking every stranger if they know Chet Baker, then woos the girls by dreamily crooning “My Funny Valentine.” The band lines up in their powder-blue uniforms at the end, in an encore that gets a nightly standing ovation. They deserve it, and so does the show. Instead of an overblown extravaganza, it’s a work of low-key charm balanced by the high impact of intuitive ensemble work and a gorgeous score unlike anything on Broadway.

“Perfection” means “without flaws,” and I can’t find any flaws at all in The Band’s Visit.

‘The Band’s Visit’ shimmers on Broadway with Tony Shalhoub and Katrina Lenk: theater review

By Joe Dziemianowicz

“The Band’s Visit” takes place in the desert and, like a mirage, it shimmers. But better. Because this hushed, heart-melting musical is real — and truly magical.

Seen last year at the Atlantic Theater, the intimate show by Itamar Moses and David Yazbek leaps to the Ethel Barrymore Theatre with the cast nearly intact. That includes the invaluable Tony Shalhoub as Tewfiq, a serious and buttoned-up Egyptian police band leader, and the breathtaking Katrina Lenk as Dina, a sensuous, seen-it-all Israeli cafe owner.

They meet due to misconnections, the show’s main theme. An airport bus station mixup strands Tewfiq and seven fellow musicians from Alexandria in Dina’s snoozy town in the Negev Desert.

How locals and visitors cool their heels together overnight offers a sliver of storyline, drawn from a much-admired 2007 Israeli film. But plot isn’t the point. The show is a quiet musical meditation that casts a spell through its songs, alluring ambience and excellent actors.

Among them are Ari’el Stachel as Haled, a dreamy Egyptian trumpeter with a way with the ladies, and Alok Tewari as Simon, the band’s clarinetist and, in a pinch, baby whisperer. That skill comes in handy for Itzik (John Cariani) and Iris (Kristen Sieh), an Israeli couple with a bumpy marriage and bawling infant. Etai Benson and Adam Kantor play two of the spouses’ neighbors, each with girlfriend issues.

Characters come into focus as director David Cromer’s seamless staging revolves from depot to cafe to apartment to club to a would-be park. Scott Pask’s evocative spinning set, Sarah Laux’s powder blue Sgt. Pepper-y band uniforms, Tyler Micoleau’s moody lighting and Kai Harada’s clear-as-a-bell sound design help each moment shine.

Moses (“The Fortress of Solitude”) and Yazbek (“The Full Monty,” “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown”) have created something rare, grown-up and special. The book packs warmth, wit and economy. Irresistible songs blend strains of Arabic and Israeli melodies and flecks of jazz. Onstage musicians showcase the music to the max.

Dina’s wistful “Omar Sharif” is so vivid it’s a feast for the senses. (Did anyone else smell jasmine? Taste spices?) “Haled’s Song About Love”brings sexy back. “Answer Me” underlines the show’s themes of connection and longing and builds to something overwhelmingly joyous.

One resists gushing about a musical that works so wonderfully because it never overstates. It doesn’t belt. It whispers. It doesn’t grab. It reaches. Look at the Playbill image of Dina with an arm outstretched.  What are you waiting for? Take her hand — and pay her and this beautiful show a “Visit.”

‘The Band’s Visit’ review: Poignant, beautifully told musical

By Barbara Schuler

Not much happens in the fictional Israeli town called Bet Hatikva, described by the actors portraying its residents as “barren,” “bleak,” “bland,” and above all, “boring.”

And at first glance, not all that much happens onstage at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, where “The Band’s Visit” has just opened after a much-heralded run late last year at the Atlantic Theater Company resulted in an almost universal demand for a transfer to Broadway.

In truth, though, much does take place in the 95 minutes we spend with those residents, and the Egyptian police band in pale blue Sgt. Pepper uniforms that has, through an exasperating failure of communication, mistakenly landed in their midst. (They were looking for Petah Tikva.)

Eight stranded Egyptians in an Israeli town could have resulted in a play that follows another path, one of cultural differences and political divisiveness. But those issues are not really touched on in the musical that was inspired by the 2007 Israeli indie film of the same name.

Instead we get a beautifully told, more human story, a poignant portrayal of people who’ve suffered terrible losses, whose dreams have been shattered, whose longing is palpable. People who are waiting for “something different to happen . . . for something to change,” as one character sings.

The Broadway transfer comes with much of the cast and production staff intact, notably stars Katrina Lenk and Tony Shalhoub, and director David Cromer. As Dina, the owner of a small cafe in Bet Hatikva, Lenk is mesmerizing, whether smoldering as she sings of watching Omar Sharif movies or seductively draping herself in a chair. Shalhoub’s Tewfiq, the band leader, gives a moving performance as a heartbreakingly somber man, seemingly on the brink — but not quite capable — of breaking through his insecurities.

And the longing touches many characters — the clarinetist who can’t quite finish his sonata, the couple about to split up, and especially the man, known only as Telephone Guy, who waits near a pay phone for a call from a past love.

Performances and staging are finely crafted throughout, but the brilliance of this piece is truly in the music and lyrics of David Yazbek. In a departure from his work on shows such as “The Full Monty” and “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” he perfectly brings all these stories to life with rich ballads, smooth jazz, a touching lullaby, even some klezmer.

‘The Band’s Visit’ Is the Best New Musical on Broadway

by Tim Teeman

In ‘The Band’s Visit,’ an Egyptian band ends up by mistake in a desolate, down-at-heel Israeli town. Their accidental stay is full of charm and spiky self-discovery.

There are many quiet, very quiet, fragments of brilliance about The Band’s Visit, and coalescing around all of them is the delighted grin that you might find persists on your face throughout. The thought in your head causing this pleasure: that a show like this has made it to Broadway.

The 95-minute musical, directed by David Cromer and first performed last year off-Broadway at the Atlantic Theater Company, is such a contrary enterprise in many ways, not just in terms of the bright lights and brassiness one associates with Broadway musicals (it has none), but also in the story it does tell, and how that too proves to be nothing you would expect from it.

As The Band’s Visit—based on Eran Kolirin’s 2007 film—charms you, it does so in defiance of your preconceptions.

The musical is set in 1996 in Israel, and a little (fictional) town called Bet Hatikva. The problem is the musicians of the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra—dressed in their stiff and striking Tiffany-blue suits, designed by Sarah Laux­—should be in (the very real town of) Petah Tikva, and an Arab cultural center therein, and so the Israeli townsfolk and Arab musicians are stuck together overnight, until a bus out of town early the next morning.

You might expect that this set-up would lead to a dramatic backdrop for cultural misunderstanding, and prejudices being confronted and conquered.

But The Band’s Visit does something else on a much smaller scale with a more personal focus. It focuses on the people, and their own smaller dramas, and moments of discovery, both comic and serious.

Scott Pask’s design perfectly captures the run-down town with its pock-marked walls and dowdy streets, and with the addition of a bench, a park (or what passes for a park).

If the show has one failing it is that the large stage almost swallows it: Your eye roves here and there to locate characters and action. It can feel a little too tentative, and too engulfed by a big stage. It could be a little louder, it could own a little more swagger, without losing its charm.

The people of the Israeli town are, just as the blank buildings they live and work in suggest, bored out of their minds. Their brilliant opening number makes this clear, as, using the first letter of their town’s name, they spell out their feelings about the town: Boring. Barren. Bullshit. Bland. Restaurant owner Dina (Katrina Lenk) completes the litany: “Like in basically bleak and beige and blah blah blah.”

It never gets boring to hear the wonderful (please Tony-nominated) Lenk say “blah,” as a dismissive growl. She is a commanding lead, who never overshadows her fellow actors.

The show is a winning marriage of Israeli snark and Arabic dry wit, accompanied by beautiful music played by the musicians Ossama Farouk, Sam Sadigurksy, Harvey Yaldes, and Garo Yellin. (A word to the wise: Do not leave immediately after the curtain call.)

The band members and the locals eye each other warily at the start, as if teetering on the edge of a politically ominous cultural misunderstanding. That never happens. Instead, David Yazbek, who wrote the music and lyrics, and Itamar Moses, who wrote the book, burrow more subtly and playfully into private pains and desires.

They have also have a lot of fun: “Stick in a pin in a map of the desert/Build a road to the middle of the desert/Pour cement on the spot in the desert/That’s Bet Hatikva.”

At first Adam Kantor, as Telephone Guy, a young man who waits forlornly for his girlfriend Amalia to ring him at a payphone, seems pathetic, a town joke.

But his presence deepens: His fervency, his idealism, his desire for a bright light of hope, is shared by everyone else in other scenarios.

Dina has been scuffed by romantic disappointment, and so her on-stage partnering with band member Tewfiq (Tony Shalhoub) is appropriate as he too has suffered hidden griefs.

But again, the writers have something else in store for us than a traditional romantic coupling. The relationship between Dina and Tewfiq is a bruised kinship, with romance and its possibility hovering around the edges but never enough for the audience to root for it to happen. You root for them to connect, rather than kiss.

That sums up the other characters too. Some of the band members stay at the home of Itzik (John Cariani), Iris (Alok Tewari), and her father Avrum (Andrew Polk). The latter sings, “Love starts on a downbeat,” remembering how he fell for his now-deceased wife. Iris is unhappy and put-upon, and Itzik clueless, but not a total dolt.

He is, as she identifies angrily, still the little boy, hiding up a tree to avoid celebrating his birthday, afraid to grow up. Their domestic discord, and the presence of Avrum, is as cleverly written, and stripped of tempting cliché, as Dina and Tewfiq’s non-sexual courtship.

Band member Haled (Ari’el Stachel) begins the show as a slightly creepy lech, asking whoever he wants something from whether they know Chet Baker and “My Funny Valentine.”

But just wait to hear how that song is eventually played, and prepare for something to catch in your throat, and watch his non-lechy attempts to help Papi (Etai Benson) communicate with girls—up to now the latter just hears an obscuring ocean sound flow over him where words should be. He feels “dead dead dead, belly up, going round, sinking down down down… like a schmuck.”

It is Lenk and Shalhoub’s platonic romance that tenderly anchors the show. You can almost smell the “jasmine wind from the west,” and “the honey in my ears, spice in my mouth” she sings of when rhapsodizing about the Egyptian movies starring Omar Sharif she would watch when younger.

With Tewfiq she considers life, their hurts, and the partial salves of the arts, music, and books. Shalhoub—like Lenk, commanding without hogging any limelight or chewing any scenery—tries to convince her of the joys of fishing. She asks him to sing something in Arabic; and as he does she sings (in my favorite songlines of the show), “Here’s this man, right here beside me/Kind of deep, and kind of cute in his Sergeant Pepper suit.”

At the end, it is the Telephone Guy whom all the characters surround as the band prepares to leave town for its rightful destination—except, of course, the band has been exactly where it should have been.

Telephone Guy’s desire for connection is a shared one. That desire is nothing to be mocked or dismissed, The Band’s Visit suggests. However fruitless it may seem, one always should try to achieve it. Indeed, that desire to connect should be cherished—almost as much as fishing and Chet Baker.


By Roma Torre

“The Band’s Visit” is a most unusual Broadway musical; and while it’s beautifully crafted and performed, this one’s very much an acquired taste. The story concerning a group of strangers entering a foreign land may remind some of “Come From Away,” but so subdued and muted is “The Band’s Visit,” it’s more like “Come From Away” in a minor key.

Based on a film, it concerns an Egyptian police band headed to Israel to perform at a Cultural Center, but through a miscommunication, they end up in the wrong town with a similar sounding name and the difference is night and day.

The fictional desert outpost of Beit Hatikva seems to be in perpetual limbo. Nothing happens there and the residents are bored out of their minds. At first, they don’t know how to take these visitors in police uniform. Are they friend or foe?

Through a series of vignettes, we discover that these townsfolk have been culturally abandoned and they’re hungry for new blood. And during this one night, while waiting for a bus to take them away, the band, led by the terrifically under-stated Tony Shalhoub, provides the stimulation these unfulfilled folks crave.

The production, helmed by composer David Yazbek, book writer Itamar Moses, and director David Cromer is charmingly offbeat and haunting.

Yazbeck’s eclectic songs illuminate these dusty lives with subtle humor and bittersweet longing. And while the tempo is slow and there’s little action, the characters, as written and portrayed, are engagingly real.

Everyone shines in this production. John Cariani is always fun to watch as a goofball with a heart. And Katrina Lenk, luminous earlier this year in “Indecent,” is incandescent here, cooly disengaged on the outside while inside a cauldron of seductive heat.

“The Band’s Visit” is all about the human desire for connection, no matter how tentative or brief. I’m not sure it will connect with everyone, but it’s the product of a most harmonious collaboration featuring artists at the top of their game.


By Jennifer Vanasco

At the Israeli border, there’s a mix-up: a band visiting from Egypt is scheduled to play in Petah Tikvah, a populous city near Tel Aviv. Instead, the members arrive in Bet Hatikva — it sounds similar, but is spelled with a “B” and it’s in the desert.

“Welcome to nowhere,” says Dina (Katrina Lenk), the owner of a small cafe. She offers to put some of the men up and find rooms for the others, since their nothing town has no hotel.

Egyptians. Israelis. A small town that rarely sees strangers — you might expect that all of this would lead to hostility and political fireworks. But that’s not what happens.

Instead, David Yazbek’s delicate musical focuses on small moments of kindness and understanding between strangers and how the experience opens the Israelis up to dreams they had long ago set aside.

A stranger changing a small town is a theater and film trope, certainly, and except for one notable exception (the band leader, played by Tony Shalhoub), we never learn much about the Egyptians. But director David Cromer uses actors standing alone on a wide stage to emphasize these characters’ deep loneliness. One waits in the dark, staring at a brightly-lit pay phone in the hope that his girlfriend might call.

It’s Yazbek’s lovely score, though, that makes this Off-Broadway transfer captivating and carries it through the occasional aimless scene. He uses the complex rhythms of Middle Eastern music (much of it played by onstage actor/musicians) to explore the equally complicated, subterranean feelings of people who love their families and their friends, but still long for something else. And his lyrics are poetry: Dina, when singing about the Egyptian movies she watched with her mother as a child, says they “floated in on a jasmine wind from the west, from the south/honey in my ears, spice in my mouth.”

The other winning thing about this show is that it doesn’t go where you expect it to. There’s no easy resolution, just an acknowledgement that whatever people think they might want, what they need is connection.

Aisle View: A Little Jasmine-Spiced Night Music

By Steven Suskin

There’s music in the air at the Barrymore: sweetly lush, jasmine-scented melody which bathes the stage—and the audience—in an evening of enchantment. The Band’s Visit is the title, from composer/lyricist David Yazbek, bookwriter Itamar Moses and director David Cromer. A uniquely unconventional musical told in a new manner, it follows pretty much in the steps of Fun HomeHamilton and Dear Evan Hansen: which is to say, it is another musical which tracks a new, different and exciting path.

Things start in a decidedly non-musical manner: the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra—eight strong, wearing powder-blue band uniforms that a skeptic refers to as “Sgt. Pepper suits”—arrives in Israel for a low priority cultural exchange. (The time is 1996, the story based on Eran Kolirin’s 2007 film of the same title.) Through a misfortune of comically-mangled English—the common language for the Israeli and Egyptian characters—the band finds itself stranded in the middle of the Negev, where the bemused natives play host.

It is only when we get to the desert that Yazbek begins to slyly slip in songs. Amusing at first, flavorful next, then ripely funny as leading lady Katrina Lenk takes charge: viciously so, decapitating a melon as she sings of her missing husband (à la Sondheim’s infamous meat pie lady), in “It Is What It Is.” With “The Beat of Your Heart,” Yazbek explodes with an impetuous downbeat which blasts the house altogether. What started as an unconventional play-with-songs becomes a full-fledged musical, heightened by one of the most evocatively beautiful new songs heard on Broadway in years, “Omar Sharif.”

And on it goes. The Band’s Visit is unlikely all through; what at times seems story-less and unvarnished suddenly, and by design, blossoms like a desert flower. Mr. Moses (The Fortress of Solitude) perfectly complements Yazbek’s work, and director Cromer (of Our Town and Adding Machine) provides an altogether enchanting evening. The show, which was a great crowdpleaser (and winner of the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Musical) when it premiered last December at the Atlantic Theater Company, fully retains its magic uptown.

Yazbek came to Broadway in 2000 with The Full Monty, which displayed a theatrical newcomer with remarkable instincts. (The novice songwriter, I wrote back then, recalled Frank Loesser. “He isn’t up to Loesser yet, naturally. But hidden behind the often-noisy rhythms of this score is a guy who can write for the theatre.) By Dirty Rotten Scoundrels(2005) he had perfected musical comedy writing, while Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (2010) displayed remarkably strong writing-to-character. While that musical’s Broadway premiere was underdeveloped and problematic, Yazbek’s score was astonishingly good.

Thus, the warmth, comedy and sheer melodicism of the Band’s Visit should be no surprise to those of us who have been touting the composer all along. This is his best score, and the best of his musicals thus far. While a style encompassing Israeli and Arabic music is decidedly unusual for Broadway, Yazbek—a New York native with Jewish and Lebanese roots—is clearly comfortable from the start; his score consciously evokes Rodgers & Gershwin, ravishingly so in numbers like “Haled’s Song about Love” and “Something Different.”

Standing center is Lenk, the quintessential desert rose. Bristling, wary and eyebrow raised in a perennially sardonic glance, she reveals—when the music of the night gets to her—a sinuous inner tigress. This is the same Lenk who made a mark this spring as one of the girls in the rain in Indecent. We’re not big on predictions based on forthcoming musicals which are not yet in production, but let’s just say that Lenk could well be a Best Actress frontrunner come awards season.

Shalhoub (Act One), as the shyly introverted bandleader Tewfiq, gives yet another bravura stage performance—to the extent that we no longer need to refer to him as the star of a long-running television series, with three Emmys in his pocket. Ari’el Stachel stands out as the musician Haled, acting and singing as well as playing his trumpet. Yazbek gives a solo each to John Cariani, as a nebbishy father; Andrew Polk, as a widower who sings of the downbeat; Etai Benson, as a tongue-tied suitor; and Adam Kantor, as a fellow awaiting an overseas phone call. All offer charming and ingratiating performances, as does George Abud who sports a dangling cigarette and continually clutches his violin case (presumably afraid that one of the Israelis will steal it).

But it’s Mr. Yazbek, and his music, that make this musical. The Band’s Visit is about loneliness, the major characters all isolated in their own desert. And then that jasmine-scented music of the night magically floats honey and spice over them, and over the fortunate patrons at the Barrymore as well.

‘The Band’s Visit’ review: New musical based on Israeli film is a must-see on Broadway

By Matt Windman


‘The Band’s Visit’ plays an open run at the Barrymore Theatre. 243 W. 47th St., thebandsvisitmusical.com

Broadway musicals traditionally begin with a bang, a rousing overture or an elaborate, entertaining and informative opening number to grab the audience’s attention.

In stark contrast is “The Band’s Visit,” which begins with a tongue-in-cheek warning that it involves a small overseas incident — some Egyptian musicians who get lost in Israel — that “you probably didn’t hear about” and “wasn’t very important.” But from that point on, you’re hooked.

This modest, mild-mannered but utterly absorbing musical, based on a 2007 Israeli film of the same title, has transferred to Broadway following a short Off-Broadway run last year produced by the Atlantic Theater Company.

It concerns the all-male Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra, led by the stern and sad commander-conductor Tewfiq (Tony Shalhoub, in a full-bodied performance), which has been invited to perform at a new cultural center in the Israeli town of Petah Tikvah.

But due to a linguistic misunderstanding, the men arrive instead in the small, desolate desert village of Bet Hatikva. Luckily, Dina (the alluring Katrina Lenk, who recently appeared on Broadway in “Indecent”), a sexy and outspoken Israeli café operator, agrees to put the men up for the night while they wait for the next bus to arrive.

Dina takes a liking to Tewfiq and shows him around the town, namely its industrial cafeteria, a pay phone stand (where a young man has been waiting for days for his girlfriend to call) and an empty park. Some of the other musicians check out a roller rink and a young family’s cramped apartment.

While there is little plot or character development, one by one the players open up in song and dialogue, revealing that they are suffering from emotional paralysis and the monotony of everyday life.

The integration of David Cromer’s intimate and sensitive direction; David Yazbek’s Middle-Eastern flavored score, much of which is performed onstage by cast members; and Itamar Moses’ book, which hews closely to the original screenplay, is so seamless that it is virtually impossible to pick apart.

They have turned a slight, short, quiet tale into an urgent, realistic and relatable portrait of vulnerable individuals from different cultures who are able to make an unexpected human connection, often just through a shared appreciation for music.

“The Band’s Visit” may lack the epic excitement and intensity of something like “Hamilton” or “Dear Evan Hansen,” but I doubt that a better written new musical will come to Broadway this season.

On Broadway, The Band’s Visit Is This Season’s Hamilton

By Michael Levin

In the Middle East, there’s a long history of music breaking down walls, all the way back to Joshua’s trumpets at Jericho.

The modern Middle East is portrayed in the musical The Band’s Visit, which opened tonight at the Ethel Barrymore after a long and successful run off Broadway.

The Band’s Visit is this season’s Hamilton. If you don’t buy tickets now, you’re going to pay a heck of a lot more later.

So here’s the play in a nutshell:

The Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra comes to Israel for a performance at the Arab Cultural Center in Petah Tikva.

Unfortunately, the band members speak no Hebrew, and their English isn’t all that great, either.

Instead of getting bus tickets for Petah Tikva, they end up in a beyond-the-beyond development town of Beit ha-Tikva, where there is no cultural center, Arab or Israeli, and where there is no culture at all, for that matter.

So here you’ve got the Egyptians, speaking some English and no Hebrew, trying to figure out what went wrong and where to go next, bumping up against the Israeli residents of the town, who speak some English and no Arabic.

Religion, politics, and history barely factor into the equation after the first few awkward moments.

Instead, it turns out that the Egyptians and Israelis share the common bonds of humanity, loneliness, and hope.

Indeed, the names of the two towns both contain the word hope—Petah Tikva means The Opening of Hope and Beit ha-Tikva means House of Hope.

The show is based on a 2007 Israeli film, Bikur Ha-TizmoretThe Band’s Visit, written and directed by Eran Kolirin, which Roger Ebert called one of the top 20 films of that year.

The film won awards world-wide, including recognition from UNESCO for its ability to, well, break down walls with music.

Whoever had the genius-level idea of finding a Broadway musical in that movie should be taking a huge bow alongside the amazing cast at the end of every performance.

It’s hard enough to compress a film onto stage, which this production does absolutely perfectly with direction by David Cromer and set design by Scott Pask.

What makes the show unforgettable are the songs, with music and lyrics by David Yazbek and the book by Itamar Moses.

Try out these lyrics, which encapsulate the history and boring nature of the town in 25 words or less:

Pick a sand hill of your choosing / Take some bricks that no one’s using / Build some buildings, Put some Jews in / Then, blah blah blah…/ Beit ha-Tikva!

Yazbek’s ability to capture in song Israeli sarcasm and the ability to poke fun at itself, as well as the dignity and humanity of the visiting Egyptians, is pitch perfect.

So are the performances.

Katrina Lenk plays Dina, the owner of the Beit ha-Tikva Cafe to which the Egyptian band repairs after it realizes the mistake it’s made.

Lenk sings with unmatched virtuosity and acts with a smoldering sensuality combined with woundedness cloaked in Sabra toughness. Her performance is miraculous, flawless, and incandescently sexy.

Opposite her as the Egyptian band conductor is the brilliant Tony Shalhoub, who is dignified, sensitive, heartwarming, and heartbreaking, all at the same time.

The show, which runs for 90 minutes without intermission, offers a series of encounters between the Egyptians and the Israelis. Those encounters – at Dina’s café, in small apartments, in a restaurant, in a park, at a roller skating rink – demonstrate that the religious and political differences that have riven the region are superfluous to the workings of the human heart.

The play is also riotously funny; I don’t want to spoil any of the laughter for you, so you’ll just have to see for yourself.

War has kept these individuals from connecting in the past; music brings them together.

You have to go back to A Chorus Line to find as flawless an evening of new songs that capture the imagination, make you laugh and cry, and above all, offer a message of hope.

One comes away from The Band’s Visit with the wistful sense that if only more groups of total strangers could get stranded in each other’s communities for a night, peace might break out everywhere on the planet.

That’s a lot to get from a Broadway musical, but this Broadway musical is incomparable in terms of both ambition and execution.

Which will come sooner, peace in the Middle East or the end of the Broadway run of The Band’s Visit? Probably peace, and maybe this musical will help.

The Band’s Visit will steal your heart as it wins multiple Tonys for Best Everything. Go in peace.