On August 27, I attended the opening performance of The Band's Visit at the Peace Center. I can describe the production in one word: electrifying.
Written and composed by David Yazbek, The Band's Visit is a musical about a group of musicians from Egypt who travel to Israel to perform for an Arab cultural organization. Having arrived at the wrong town—miniscule Bet Hatikva instead of the city of Petah Tikvah—the band members have nowhere to stay the night until the next bus arrives.
Dina (Chilina Kennedy), owner of a small cafe, and her employees Iztik (Pomme Koch) and Papi (Adam Gabay) allow the eight members to reside at their houses. The adventures of Dina and composer Tewfiq (Sasson Gabay), as well as those of Iztik and his family, and Papi and band member Haled (Joe Joseph) create an intriguing world of hilarity while revealing themes both of growth and enduring love.
Yazbek’s music sends chills up the spine, particularly in the songs “Welcome to Nowhere,” “The Beat of Your Heart,” and most notably, “Omar Sharif.” The latter, whose title references an Egyptian actor for whom Dina and Tewfiq share a love, shows a renewed sense of romanticism in Dina—who is introduced as a cynical woman at the beginning of the musical. The combination of poignant lyrics, and, of course, Kennedy’s enrapturing vocals and movement, make it impossible to look away from the stage.
Music also plays a crucial role in terms of symbolism. For example, Simon’s (James Rana) unfinished clarinet concerto “Prelude” shows that art which is imperfect or incomplete has the potential to inspire others—even when its creator cannot see it. Iztik and his family are fascinated by the piece, but to Simon it’s nothing special. Similarly, the town of Bet Hatikvah seems special and mystifying the band. But to Dina and her crew, it is “nowhere.”
Another element of The Band’s Visit that stood out to me is the chemistry between the actors. Particularly Kennedy and Sasson Gabay. When Kennedy performs “Something Different,” Dina’s reaction to Tewfiq’s “Itgara’a,” she depicts her character’s feelings perfectly: overwhelmed by her feelings of kindredness and curiosity toward him.
Sasson Gabay portrays Tewfiq as a nervous lover, but the latter’s growing affection for Dina shines through his reservations brilliantly. It is clear to see that Sasson Gabay and Kennedy, in the way they banter through their vessels and dance together in various musical numbers, are souls connected by a deep understanding of the characters they play.
In judging each of the actors on their individual performances, however, Adam Gabay and Mike Cefalo (“Telephone Guy”) put on the most phenomenal performances.
Adam Gabay’s portrayal of Papi, socially awkward young man who proves to be extremely ignorant when it comes to matters of the opposite sex, had the audience crying tears of laughter, especially in “Papi Hears the Ocean.” He expresses himself through artfully clumsy motions, hysterical facial expressions, and constant stuttering when speaking of women.
Cefalo, whose sole “speaking lines” come during and after his song “Answer Me,” emanates so much emotion in so little stage time. His character “Telephone Guy” represents hope, and even some naïvety. The way he stands in front of the pay phone with an almost childlike expression on his face is hauntingly familiar to anyone who’s ever experienced loss or heartbreak. It takes immense talent to make the audience see themselves without speech.
As far as broadway shows go, I’ve never seen one quite like The Band’s Visit. It’s incredibly unique, and it’s definitely an experience that will follow you beyond the theatre walls. I’d give the First National Tour’s performance of The Band’s Visit a ten out of ten.