Friday, December 1, 2017

Broadway Theater Review: The Band's Visit TOP PICK


The Band's Visit
Music and Lyrics by David Yazbek
Book by Itamar Moses, based on the film by Eran Kolirin
Choreographed by Patrick McCollum
Directed by David Cromer
Ethel Barrymore Theatre

By Lauren Yarger
Like streams in the dessert, The Band's Visit quenches a thirst for something satisfying on Broadway and it's different than any other drink being offered on the Great White Way.

First off, this musical doesn't feel like a musical. The score by David Yazbeck (The Full Monty, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) seems a natural part of the story, which follows an Egyptian police orchestra on its way to perform in a dedication ceremony in Israel. So when the musicians pick up their instruments, or the characters express themselves by singing a song with beats that sound conversational, it is an extension of themselves thanks to expressive lyrics (also by Yazbek) and a well-written book by Itamar Moses, based on the 2007 movie by Eran Kolirin. This production makes a smooth transfer to Broadway of the acclaimed Off-Broadway world premiere last year at the intimate Atlantic Theatre Company, where it was sold out for most of its run.

When the band members arrive in Israel, they discover they are in Bet Hatikva, not Petah Tikvah, home of the Arab Cultural Center, the opening of which they have come to celebrate. Bet Hatikva not only doesn't have a cultural center, it doesn't have much of anything. That’s the word from Dina (Katrina Lenk, who undoubtedly will be nominated for a Tony award for her splendid performance), owner of a cafe which is one of the few non-apartment buildings in the area.

"Not Arab culture, not Israeli. Not culture at all," she tells Tewfiq (a wonderful Tony Shalhoub). "Welcome to nowhere."

Because there is no bus out of town until the next day and no hotel in the area, Dina provides dinner for the band and commandeers her neighbors into putting the members up in their homes.

A welcome mat is rolled out for the Egyptians to join the Israeli's on a typical evening in Bat Haitikva. Simon (Alok Tewari), shares his unfinished musical composition and brings peace to the home of Itzik (John Cariani) and Iris (Karen Sieh), who isn't sure she can deal with the demands of a new baby and no sleep. Meanwhile, Haled (Ari'el Stachel), who was responsible for the mix up in their travel plans, tries to avoid Tewfiq's relentless disapproval and seeks out a good time at the local roller rink. He offers advice (rather humorous) on picking up girls to Papi (Etai Benson), who is smitten with Julia (Rachel Prather), but is unable to work up the nerve to speak with her.  

Creating this world, with the help of a revolving stage designed by Scott Pask, is Director David Cromer, who works his magic to bring the audience into the intimate world of the characters. We feel for one character, known only as the Telephone Guy (Adam Kantor), who waits endlessly at a payphone for a call from his love. We're not sure exactly why he thinks she will call, or why it is so important that she does, but we really want that phone to ring.

Meanwhile, despite appearing to be dry from years of wandering in an emotional dessert, complete with failed relationships with men she probably shouldn't have been involved with in the first place, Dina finds herself drawn to the mild, polite Tewfiq. He touches a part of her she hasn't visited in a while -- a hope she felt when watching old romantic movies on TV. As she wonders whether Tewfiq might be the one she has been waiting for all these years, she sings a mesmerizing ballad, "Omar Sharif."

Dina is sitting at the table talking with Tewfiq, but Lenk rises to present the song in an almost ballet movement that allows us to see the thoughts crossing her mind (choreography is by Patrick McCollum). Tyler Microleak’s exceptional lighting design highlights Dina and in a less pronounced way, Tewfiq, but also lets us see the other characters in the shadows of the restaurant as they mimic her arm movements. The effect is a stunning "time-stands-still" moment which no one does better than Cromer. And that ballad triggers a never-ending earworm once you hear it (sample a clip in the video below).

If the performances and music weren't enough to make this a top pick (probably of the season), there are some bonuses as well. The story is about people. Regular, decent people who open up and share with each other. In a plot that could have focused on politics since we have Jews and Arabs interacting there isn’t any. Even with communication difficulties brought on by language barriers. What a welcome respite -- like a stream in the dessert.  Many playwrights and directors seem to think they have carte blanche to bash politicians they don't like, even if doing so doesn't add anything to the show. They should take a lesson from The Band's Visit, which in its silence about politics, says more about the good of humanity and the ability for people from different backgrounds to get along than any Trump bashing could, for example.

A second bonus is that the musicians who are on stage are really, really good. The Broadway production includes some more instrumental parts in the score (orchestrated by Jamshied Sharifi) which allows the musicians to improvise. Don't leave at the curtain call, or you will miss a terrific encore.

The Band's Visit has hearts singing at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, 243 West 47th St., NYC with tickets currently on sale through September 2018. Performance times vary. Tickets are $59.00 - $189: thebandsvisitmusical.com.

Additional casting:
Andrew Polk, Bill Army, Rachel Prather, Jonathan Raviv, Sharone Sayegh,  Pomme Koch, Madison Madison Micucci and James Rana
Additional credits:
Sarah Laux (Costume Design), Kai Harada (Sound Design), Maya Ciarrocchi (Projection Design), Charles G. LaPointe (Hair Designer), Andrea Grody (Music Supervisor and Music Director) and Dean Sharenow (Music Supervisor and Music Coordinator)

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:
-- God's name taken in vain
-- Language 
-- Recommended for 12 and up


 

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com. She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle. and the Episcopal Actors' Guild.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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