THE BAND’S VISIT (stage musical, 2020)

February 6, 2020

***NOTE: I don’t often post stage reviews, but since this one is adapted from a 2007 movie, I’m bending the rules

 “Nothing is as beautiful as something you don’t expect.” This memorable line works not only for the story, but also holds true as a review of the stage production. When we think of Tony Award winning musicals, we tend to think big and loud, with elaborate and ostentatious set design. Full disclosure: In 2008, I became a fan of writer-director Eran Kolirin’s film version, and in 2017 the stage musical version, with a script Itamar Moses adapted (from Kolirin’s screenplay) and music from David Yazbek moved to Broadway. It won 10 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and then won a Grammy for Best Theatre Musical Album. So yes, that’s one of the beautiful things we didn’t expect.

When the lights first come up, it’s 1996 and we see the Alexandra Ceremonial Police Orchestra waiting apprehensively at the bus station for a ride that is apparently not coming. They have arrived in Israel from Egypt, after being invited to play at the Grand Opening of the Arab Cultural Center in Petah Tivka. Thanks to the language barrier, they instead find their way to Bet Hativka  … “with a B” instead of “with a P”. A tiny desert town in Israel offers up only confusing looks from the locals to go with welcome hospitality. Dina, the café owner, arranges a place for each of the band members to sleep that night, and her own personal guest is Tewfiq, the band’s dignified leader.

Janet Dacal has taken over the role of Dina from Katrina Lenk (Broadway) and Chilina Kennedy (first national tour). It’s a challenging character because Dina is a tough-talking local who still harbors hope of a fulfilling relationship. In other words, her hard shell protects the warm and open heart of a romantic. Additionally, Dina is responsible for bringing energy and spirit to the stage as most of her scenes are with Tewfiq, one of the more reserved stage characters you’ve seen. Sasson Gabay has reprised his excellent silver screen role as Tewfiq (played by Tony Shalhoub on Broadway), and he perfectly embodies a man weighted with an internal burden of grief, as well as the added responsibility of proudly representing his country.

Everything takes place over the course of one night. It’s not so much a story as it is a display of human connection. There is no real clash of cultures. No, these are simply people dealing with the situation. The mundane existence of the small town locals have varying reactions to the strangers wearing powder blue uniforms and toting instruments. Ah yes, the music. Rather than overblown showstoppers, the 12 songs and score coax us through the interactions. Dina’s “Omar Sharif” is not only a catchy tune, but one that bonds her with Tewfiq. “Papi Hears the Ocean” may be the most humorous of the songs, and it’s immediately followed by the touching “Haled’s Song About Love.” Themes of humor (including a running Chet Baker gag) and love run throughout, but keep in mind, this is mostly a subdued, intimate show featuring human moments between characters.

The circular, revolving stage works brilliantly for the simple sets of this simple town. The depth comes from the characters, and sometimes what is implied is more powerful than what is said. The production is from director David Cromer (also from the Broadway run), and the show runs a little more than 90 minutes with no intermission. We are informed twice that the band’s visit wasn’t important, and maybe they are right … this was “Something Different.” In contrast to the tone of the band’s overnight stay, it’s that finale concert that brings the crowd to their feet. We get to see the musicians do what they love. It’s quite a treat.

In Dallas at the Winspear Opera House, the show will have a two-week run with Dallas Summer Musicals (February 4-16, 2020), and then an additional week through AT&T Performing Arts Center (February 18-23, 2020)


March 5, 2015

Gett Greetings again from the darkness. Personal views on Politics and Religion are purposefully avoided in my film reviews as I prefer to view the work from the perspective of art and storytelling. Sometimes, however, a film exposes such an injustice that stifling one’s opinions is just not practical. Such is the case with this latest from the brother-sister co-directing and co-writing team of Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz.

This is the final piece of the creative siblings’ trilogy on Israeli marriage that began with To Take a Wife (2004), and was followed by 7 Days (2008). That’s right, the two characters of husband Elisha (Simon Ebkarian) and wife Viviane (played by director Ronit Elkabetz who was also in the excellent 2007 film The Band’s Visit) have been followed through the stages of marriage, separation, and now divorce court. Only their divorce court is not what most of the world thinks of when we hear that term. In Israel, divorce is not a civil matter, but rather falls under Jewish law and the proceedings are overseen by a triumvirate of rabbinical judges. If that’s not difficult enough to stomach … it’s the husband who holds ALL the power. The husband must agree to grant his wife the divorce. Without his permission, the judges can do nothing and the wife is bound to the marriage.

With the story unfolding almost exclusively in the bleak courtroom, Viviane trudges through delays, no-shows, desperate negotiations, and other time-wasters; only occasionally succumbing to an outburst, rather than her usual quiet dignity. Elisha maintains a seemingly proud and determined look when he does show for hearings, only periodically shooting a look of disgust at his wife. His confidence stems from the power in knowing that grounds for divorce do not include irreconcilable differences. The camera work puts us right in the courtroom and we soon recognize Elisha’s mannerisms as not just passive-aggressive, but also manipulative and misguided. He is not an awful man, but this is an awful marriage.

Long a fan of courtroom dramas, I was mesmerized by the dumbfounding process as well as the stellar performances, excellent script and POV camera work. Ms Elkabetz is terrific as Viviane, and her work is complimented by Mr Ebkarian as her husband, Sasson Gabay as his brother and advocate, and Menashe Noy as her advocate and admirer. The film is a strange blend of hypnotic and infuriating and heart-breaking. It’s uncomfortable to watch, but one we can’t turn away from … especially as Viviane shouts “You don’t see me!” to the judges.  Her pleas are the perfect bookend to a film that begins by ignoring her presence in the courtroom (we don’t see her face for the first few minutes).

watch the trailer: