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Off Broadway

The Band’s Visit a Hallmark Card To Life

The Band’s Visit a Hallmark Card To Life

“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.”

I had heard so much about The Band’s Visit, that maybe, that is why I wasn’t that impressed. Maybe it was because the show stopped after the second song for 15 minutes, to fix a turntable problem and I got out of the mood. Maybe it was the guy in front of me, who thought his head was in a ping pong tournament? Whatever it was, I feel like the black sheep of critics, because though I adore the director David Cromer’s work, David Yazbek’s music and lyrics (he has done some of his best work here), Itamar Moses, writing (his dialogue powerful and real) I did not adore The Band’s Visit. I was bored.

Tony Shalhoub, Katrina Lenk

Tony Shalhoub and Katrina Lenk Photo: Ahron R. Foster.

Tony Shalhoub and Katrina Lenk the girl with the “it” factor and talent to match couldn’t even hold my interest.Nothing happens, not really but a accidental cultural exchange, when an Egyptian military band confuses a P for a B and ends up in an isolated Israeli town in the middle of the desert.

 

The show starts as The Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra, consisting of eight men, arrive in Israel from Egypt. They have been booked by an Arab cultural center in Petah Tikva, but through a miscommunication (Arabic has no “p” sound, and regularly replaces it with “b”), the band takes a bus to Beit Hatikva, a fictional town in the middle of the Negev Desert. Tawfiq Zacharya (Shalhoub), knows that the government funding is in peril, for his little band as well as the political and cultural significance. Shalhoub’s performance makes this sad man funny, crazy and lovable.

Before the band gets to their little town the residences sing about “Waiting,” and how their lives are uneventful. This is where the turntable broke. In “Welcome to Nowhere,” there is no transportation out of the city that day and no hotels to spend the night. The band members eat a small restaurant where the owner, Dina (Katrina Lenk) invites them to stay the night at her apartment, at her friends’ apartment,and in the restaurant. That night challenges all of the characters.

Rachel Prather, Daniel David Stewart

Rachel Prather and Daniel David Stewart Photo: Ahron R. Foster.

The Egyptians and the Israelis, reluctantly bond and as they do the cultural difference seems to fade. In “Hadid’s Song About Love” (Daniel David Stewart) he explains how he is no good with the ladies and Pipi (Ari’el Stachel) the ladies man of the band shows him the way. Another young husband ( John Cariani) is about to lose his wife until he gets help.

Through out the piece Telephone Guy (Erik Liberman) is waiting for a call until the entire ensemble connects and returns his plea.

The music by David Yazbek is a combination of Israeli and Arabic and it is compelling. The band all plays and it adds to the sound and the performances. Shalhoub is always wonderful and Ms. Lenk is a find. The whole company is phenomenal at what they do. David Cromer’s direction is plodding and in the end I felt like I was in a politically correct Hallmark card. Sweet, lovely, charming, but will it make it on Broadway, I highly doubt it. On the way to the bus stop and at the bus stop, I heard my same feelings echoed.

“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.”

So why move it to Broadway?

The Band’s Visit: The Atlantic Theatre Company, Linda Gross Theatre, 336 West 20th Street until January 8, 2017

Off Broadway

Suzanna, co-owns and publishes the newspaper Times Square Chronicles or T2C. At one point a working actress, she has performed in numerous productions in film, TV, cabaret, opera and theatre. She has performed at The New Orleans Jazz festival, The United Nations and Carnegie Hall. She has a screenplay and a TV show in the works, which she developed with her mentor and friend the late Arthur Herzog. She is a proud member of the Drama Desk and the Outer Critics Circle and was a nominator. Email: suzanna@t2conline.com

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