Last December at the Atlantic Theater in Chelsea, I was mesmerized. The Band’s Visit was nearing the end of its short Off-Broadway run and I was lucky enough to squeak in before closing. The musical, that is now making its Broadway debut is absolutely and quietly devastating in its magnificence. It has a beauty to its sadness, and a sense of goodness and hope in its desire. Not much has changed with this perfectly constructed piece as it sails uptown into the Ethel Barrymore Theater on the sweet ocean air that hints of jasmine. That aroma seems to hang on those lovely blue suits that are worn proudly by the musicians of the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra. They have come to Israel to play at the Arab Cultural Center in Petah Tikva, but a sweet turn of events sends the Band on a different kind of visit. They bring with them the smell of the ocean in that blue, and that is just what the town folk of Bet Haatikva (and Broadway for that matter) have been waiting for, even if we all didn’t know it when they first walked in.
That town, the one in the middle of the Israeli desert, tells us everything we need to know when they sing that perfectly apt song, “Waiting”, as they circulate in on their way to no-where-in-particular. The residents are itching for something new to blow into town, somewhere between the cafe and the apartment buildings. The song suggests boredom but also a faint aroma of hope. They are all waiting and wanting for anything to shake up their staleness. And than, as if blown in from a far away land, the blue suited musicians walk on, and the brilliant “Welcome to Nowhere” solidifies just how deep the need is for that whiff of some strange kind of spice to penetrate their dusty desert air. It’s drenched in Israeli sarcasm but also survival, frustration, and humor. It’s about as perfect a ‘welcome song’ as one could imagine, but not one we’d like to hear getting off a bus after a long ride.
But the lost musicians are a welcome sight, for myself, for Broadway, and for the residents of Bet Haatikva. The only thing that might have changed with their bus ride transfer uptown to Broadway is that The Band’s Visit has become more solid and in some way, this musical, based on the 2007 film, sits more squarely and securely on stage. The set, designed by Scott Pask (Waitress) feels more sure-footed and rooted onto this bigger stage, more at home than downtown. And the musical, itself, feels more sure of its power, its wit, and its deep strong emotional core. So when that Orchestra arrives in Israel from Egypt for a cultural event, with no delegation to meet them, nor any arrangements to get to their destination, they find their own ride. Lined up on that magnificent set, the misunderstanding that leads them astray, we are sure, is a wonderful gift from some higher power to us all.
Midway through The Band’s Visit, the magnetic Katrina Lenk (Indecent, Once), playing Dina, a bored and frustrated Israeli woman living her days away sings an enchanting song called “Omar Sharif” to a visiting Egyptian man. She wistfully recalls Friday nights at home with her mother, watching Egyptian movies on television and dreaming of another far off world. The memories are infused with the sweet aroma of jasmine, but also the ache of disappointment. Floating across the dry desert land to the remote island of a town, the mystery and hope of this foreign land soaks into her skin through the lens of black and white movies starring the European film stars Anouk Aimée, Simone Signoret, and, of course, the handsome and charming Omar Sharif. They filled her with wonder, and a desire for something very different than her quiet little town. Her song, sung with the beautiful aroma of faraway spices and a hint of sea air freshness perfectly captures the absolute joy of this compelling new musical. It also captures the ache and sense of longing that permeates the air.
The man Dina sings that song to is the strong and ever so polite, Tewfiq, played magnificently by a wonderfully detailed Tony Shalhoub (The Price), the conductor of the lost orchestra. Their chemistry together is subtle and sublime. Through a misunderstanding by the ever-so-handsome trumpeter and confident ladies’ man, Haled, played by a velvety smooth voiced Ari’El Stachel (NYTW’s We Live in Cairo), who could make anyone swoon with a look and a song, this police band finds themselves on the door step of Dina’s cafe, far away from their intended destination. Lost, and in need of help, Dina and her friends; Itzik, portrayed by a tender and endearing John Cariani (Broadway’s Something Rotten!) and the shy Papi, a heart-warming Etai Benson (Broadway’s Wicked) embrace the lost foreigners. Stuck in that town until the next morning’s bus, the band tries its best to settle in with their new and surprised hosts who offer their help and homes for the night. What happens next is a special evening together of intimate confessions and quiet interactions that impact everyone involved. They all decide to breath-in the scent of something new and unexpected, and breath-out a sigh of relief.
The cast is exceptional; each one making their mark with song after song seeped in intimate emotionality of every range and color. David Yazbek (The Full Monty, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels), who wrote the music and lyrics, and Itamar Moses (The Fortress of Solitude), who is responsible for the book, have created a gloriously story that Dina states, “wasn’t very important”. It envelopes us with a musical sense and style steeped in the two different cultures and somehow blends them in a way that creates something old and new at the same time. On both sides of that culture aisle, we see passion, care, and affection, dipping in longing and painted with personal history, scented with love, longing, and humor.
For a show about Egyptians and Israelis, the show lacks almost any political lectures except for one brief moment of tension and suspicion, which is quickly pushed aside by one labeling his neighbor an ‘asshole’, and moving on to the more important human elements that brings them all together; love and hope. There is an absolutely charming moment between the incredibly handsome Haled (a star making performance by Stachel) singing “Haled’s Song About Love” dripping with honey and velvet. It is a crooner of a song that I still can’t get out of my head, as he tries to help the young and scared Papi step over his fears and embrace an opportunity that is sitting right beside him. It’s a touching and beautiful moment that embraces the whole idea of these two worlds coming together. The Chet Baker-loving Haled is the spiritual center of this soulful story. No politics are needed in this simple tale, just the universal impact of courage, fulfillment, and connection.
Directed with precision and a knack for both beauty and impact, David Cromer (The Treasurer, Tribes) achieves something as wonderful and glorious as the music that swirls out of the band’s instruments (excellent work by music director Andrea Grody, the musicians, sound design by Kai Harada, and orchestrations by Janshied Sharifi). The design work by Pask (sets), Tyler Micoleau (lights), Sarah Laux (costumes) and choreography by Patrick McCollum are seamless and enrich the already beautiful and funny story lines that rotate around that one night when strangers are forced by fate to entangle themselves in another world. Simon, played by Alok Tewari (Public’s Awake and Sing!), the tender clarinetist and composer of an unfinished concerto and the sweet nervous Camal, the violinist, portrayed by a sweet George Abud, find themselves at the dinner table with a troubled couple, Itzik (Cariani), his wife, Iris, a deep and wonderfully sullen Kristen Sieh (CSC’s Iphigenia in Aulis), her father, Avrum, a kind and emotionally voiced Andrew Polk (The Accomplices), and their temperamental baby. The beauty lies in the depth of the trapped and confused, where a sense of disengagement and longing floats side by side through the air.
What stood out for me on this visit to Bet Haatikva is the slow build of sadness and longing that settles on every surface in town as this musical rotates and roller-skates forward. From that first song in the cafe, through Dina and Tewfig’s achingly sweet “Something Different“, the sea of sadness and discontent keeps rising and rising, until finally, the most simple story told by the marvelous Shalhoub’s Tewfiq, pushes the emotional waters over the crest with his painful revelation. It’s not huge in scope, but it is quietly devastating and all that is required to bring tears to my eyes. The final song, “Answer Me” starts off so simply and casually that we almost don’t recognize that this song is THE song that builds into something bigger and more powerful than expected. As everyone begins to join in, we realize that this song is really what this wonderful tale is all about.
For a town smack dead in the middle of the desert, there is so much talk of the sea and the silent longing for that breeze. With this finale, we see the sea-wall surge up and engulf us. This sublime musical with an excitingly fresh score floats through the air filling our hearts and our minds with romance, humor, love, and longing of a different people and a different world. A dream and a hope that we can all relate to and understand. These people are lost in a way, all of them, wanting and hoping for something to happen. And when it final does, they try to grab hold, but much like the beach air and the feeling it brings, there isn’t a way to capture it for later, except to breath it in and try to remember. For that moment of inhaling, they can see past their entrenchment, and imagine something else. Some other place, maybe, that will fill them with wonder. Much like The Band’s Visit is for me, drenched in the smell of the crisp exotic sea air, laced with the light hint of jasmine.
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Head To The The Algonquin Hotel For Some Holiday Cheer
As we head into the holiday season, The Algonquin Hotel’s December event lineup is open to both hotel guests and New York City locals. The hotel will spread holiday cheer with a variety of festive performances, cocktails, and experiences including:
- Cocoa and Carols Happy Hour: Daily, 5-8PM, Every evening this December, all are invited to enjoy Specialty Cocoa while Christmas carols chime at the Blue Bar. Drinks will include Mexican Hot Chocolate spiked with mezcal
- KT Sullivan Cabaret: December 5th, 12th and 19th, Sullivan will perform her iconic Christmas Cabaret. As noted by The New York Times, Sullivan is a thrilling Off-Broadway performer with over eight published albums
- Rocco Dellaneve’s Rat Pack Christmas: December 7th, 14th and 21st, Rocco Dellaneve will perform iconic songs from the Rat Pack Christmas album with special inclusions of Santa with Sinatra, Rocco of the Snow, Rudolph and the Rat pack
- The Serafina’s and Broadway Vocalists: December 8th, 15th and 22nd, enjoy the high kicking – precision line dancing Christmas tradition around The Algonquin tree. The Serafina’s will be available for pictures and autographs from 6pm to 7pm, followed by special Broadway vocalists
A portion of proceeds from all events will be donated to Toys for Tots.
Beyond the December events, The Algonquin Hotel is located in a prime position nestled in the heart of Times Square and Fifth Avenue, making it the perfect launchpad for a New York City holiday experience. The hotel is a historical jewel that emphasizes the importance of making unique, storied experiences. Since its opening in 1902, The Algonquin Hotel is famous for its timeless style and desire to honor the literary and cultural elite. The distinguished Round Table Restaurant and Blue Bar offer tasteful dining inclusions and curated cocktails that are sure to excite everyone.
Photo credit: The Algonquin Hotel, Autograph Collection
Countdown to Christmas: For The Dancer and Theatre Lover Chita Rivera
2o days to go! Every year people panic to find the perfect gift. We at T2C have been collecting idea’s all year long to bring you the perfect gift guide at all price levels. When you’re at the end of your rope trying to find the perfect Christmas present this year, come to this guide for some great suggestions.
There are a lot of books out there this year but we highly recommend Chita: A Memoir , the critically-acclaimed book is written by the legendary Broadway icon Chita Rivera with arts journalist Patrick Pacheco. Chita takes fans behind-the-scenes of all her shows and cabaret acts, she shares candid stories of her many colleagues, friends, and lovers. She speaks with empathy and hindsight of her deep associations with complicated geniuses like Fosse and Robbins, as well as with the mega-talent Liza Minnelli, with whom she co-starred in The Rink. She openly discusses her affair with Sammy Davis, Jr. as well as her marriage to Tony Mordente and her subsequent off-the-radar relationships. Chita revisits the terrible car accident that threatened to end her career as a dancer forever. Center stage to Chita’s story are John Kander and Fred Ebb, the songwriters and dear friends indelibly tied to her career through some of her most enduring work: Chicago, The Rink, Kiss of the Spider Woman, and The Visit.
Chita’s love of performing began as a child in Washington, D.C., when her mother enrolled her in a local ballet school to channel her boundless energy. Still a teenager, she moved to New York to attend the School of American Ballet after an audition for George Balanchine himself and winning a scholarship. But Broadway beckoned, and by twenty she was appearing in the choruses of Golden Age shows like Guys and Dolls and Can-Can. In the latter, she received special encouragement from its star Gwen Verdon, forging a personal and professional friendship that would help shape her career. The groundbreaking West Side Story brought her into the orbit of Leonard Bernstein, Jerome Robbins, Arthur Laurents, Hal Prince, and Stephen Sondheim. After Bye Bye Birdie further burnished her rising star, she reunited with Verdon and her then-husband Bob Fosse to work on the film version of Sweet Charity and the celebrated original Broadway production of Chicago.
Chita: A Memoir was published in English and Spanish and the English audio version of the Memoir was recorded by Chita. A Spanish audio version is also available.
“Chita Rivera blazed a trail where none existed so the rest of us could see a path forward. She has been part of some of the greatest musicals in the history of the form, from Anita in the trailblazing West Side Story through Claire Zachanassian in the underrated masterpiece The Visit, over 60 years later. She is a Puerto Rican Broadway icon and the original ‘triple threat.’ We’re so lucky to be alive in the same timeline as Chita Rivera.” — Lin-Manuel Miranda.
“A frank and fascinating memoir from one of the truly great artists of the American Theater. Lots of stories … Lots of insight … and quite a few caustic statements from Chita’s alter ego, Dolores. An illuminating history and a guaranteed pleasure!” — John Kander
Broadway legend and national treasure Chita Rivera, multi-Tony Award winner, Kennedy Center honoree, and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom – has taken no prisoners on stage or screen for seven decades. From her trailblazing performance as the original Anita in West Side Story—for which she tapped her own Puerto Rican roots—to her haunting 2015 star turn in The Visit. Chita has proven to be much more than just a captivating dancer, singer, and actress beloved by audiences and casts alike. In her equally captivating and one-of-a-kind memoir, Written with Patrick Pacheco, the woman born Dolores Conchita Figueroa del Rivero shares an incomparable life, both on stage and behind the curtain.
By the way this Memoir has won a Gold Medal for “Best Autobiography – English” at the 2023 International Latino Book Awards. https://www.latinobookawards.org/
Click here to buy your copy.
Ken Fallin’s Broadway: Spamalot
Here is the amazing cast of Spamalot. Christopher Fitzgerald as Patsy, James Monroe Iglehart as King Arthur, Leslie Rodriguez Kritzer as The Lady of the Lake, Ethan Slater as The Historian/Prince Herbert, Jimmy Smagula as Sir Bedevere, Michael Urie as Sir Robin, Nik Walker as Sir Galahad and Taran Killam as Lancelot.
I was so inspired I drew the whole cast.
To read T2C’s review click here.
Ahead of the Broadway Opening of Lempicka The Longacre Theatre Is Showcasing Art Work By Tamara de Lempicka
The Longacre Theatre (220 W 48th St.), soon-to-be home of the sweeping new musical, Lempicka, is showcasing a curated selection of renowned artist Tamara de Lempicka’s most famous works. Eschewing traditional theatrical front-of-house advertising, the Longacre’s façade now boasts prints, creating a museum-quality exhibition right in the heart of Times Square. The musical opens on Broadway on April 14, 2024 at the same venue.
The Longacre’s outdoor exhibition includes works of Self Portrait (Tamara in a Green Bugatti) (1929), Young Girl in Green (1927), Nu Adossé I (1925), The Red Tunic (1927), The Blue Scarf (1930), The Green Turban (1930), Portrait of Marjorie Ferry (1932), Portrait of Ira P. (1930), Portrait of Romana de la Salle (1928), and Adam and Eve (1932).
Starring Eden Espinosa and directed by Tony Award winner Rachel Chavkin, Lempicka features book, lyrics, and original concept by Carson Kreitzer, book and music by Matt Gould, and choreography by Raja Feather Kelly.
Spanning decades of political and personal turmoil and told through a thrilling, pop-infused score, Lempicka boldly explores the contradictions of a world in crisis, a woman ahead of her era, and an artist whose time has finally come.
Young Girl in Green painted by Tamara de Lempicka (1927). Oil on plywood.