– By Cate Marquis –
THE BAND’S VISIT was a hit Israeli comedy in which a visiting Egyptian police band getting stranded in a sleepy Israeli town, leading to a funny, surprising and sometimes romantic cross-cultural comedy. This lively award-winning charmer was adapted into a tuneful Broadway musical, that earned 10 Tonys, making it one of the most awarded Broadway shows ever. The Broadway tour of this delightful show enlivens the Fox Theater stage from Feb. 26 through Mar. 8.
Packed with irresistible music and pure fun, THE BAND”S VISIT is a total pleasure. Not every film needs to be made into a musical but the music-drenched THE BAND’S VISIT is a near-perfect good choice for that transformation. The lively, catchy music and the film’s mix of humor, human foibles and cross-cultural troubles gives plenty of room for effecting lyrics. The fish-out-of-water story focuses on people finding what they share, including a love of music and longing for connections, no matter where they are from.
Award-winning Israeli actor Sasson Gabay, who played the role of the band’s leader Tewfiq in both the film and on Broadway production, stars in the production at the Fox, and his nuanced, affecting, and dryly funny performance gives this production an extra boost. He has terrific chemistry with Janet Decal as Israeli cafe owner Dina.
This is fish-out-of-water comedy at its best, with a sly edge to the humor, a romantic undercurrent, and a dash of common human hopes and dreams.
When the eight-member Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra arrive in Israel for a concert at the opening of a town’s Arab community center, there is a mix-up. The bus that is supposed to pick them up is nowhere to be found, and it is getting late. Nervous about being in Israel on their own, the band leader, the very dignified Lt. Tewfiq Zacharya (Sasson Gabay), instructs the band members to speak English so as not to draw attention, and then makes a decision to buy their own bus tickets to the town where they will perform the following night.
He delegates the task to young band member Haled (Joe Joseph). Haled, who seems a bit more interested in flirting with the pretty ticket-seller by asking her if she is a fan of his idol, jazz icon Chet Baker, is a bit confused about the name of the town. When asked to chose between two similar sounding towns, he picks the wrong one.
The result is that the musicians get stranded in the wrong town. With their powder blue uniforms and over-sized police hats, the band presents a comic sight when they arrive in the tiny Israeli town of Bet Hatikva instead of the larger Arab community of Pet Hatikva where they are scheduled to play. The Israeli residents look askance at the Egyptians who suddenly turn up in their midst, and the Egyptians are nervous about being out-of-place strangers. But since there is not another bus until morning, they are stuck. The town is so small that there isn’t even a motel, but Tewfiq politely turns to cafe owner Dina (Janet Decal) for help, and she reluctantly agrees to take some in and even presses her employees into taking in more.
The comedy is there from the start but there is a theme of common human longing that runs throughout as well. The tuneful musical numbers often have a comic twist, with funny, ironic or poignant lyrics. The opening number “Waiting” features the residents of the little town lamenting that nothing ever there, followed up with the tongue-in-cheek “Welcome to Nowhere” which they sing to the Egyptian band accompanied by a comic dance number Dina’s philosophic resignation is summed up in her dryly funny solo “It Is What It Is.”
The band plays either together or solo throughout the show, which is part of the fun and its appeal. The music is catchy, even dance-able, and reflects Irsaeli and Egyptian influences. The musical number and dance are blended perfectly into the story, adding to it rather that distracting or interrupting.
One of the bonuses of this production is how it keeps the wonderfully ironic humorous tone of the original film. Bet Hatikva is small but quirky. When Dina persuades Tewfiq film’s location, they pass a town fixture, Telephone Guy, a young man who waits by the town’s only pay phone, hoping for a promised call from a girl. It is funny but touching, reflecting the musical’s theme of longing for human connections. The evening brings out the stories of various characters, their hopes and dreams, but with a uniquely Israeli dry humor.
THE BAND’S VISIT is one of the best at the Fox this year. It is lively, fun, warm, a pure pleasure full of wonderful moments, and topped off with a performance by the band.
© Cate Marquis