On its surface, The Band’s Visit might not seem like much. Set in 1996, the 10-time Tony Award-winning musical follows an Egyptian ceremonial police band that comes to perform in Israel and accidentally ends up in the wrong town. Seeing the band is stranded, the townspeople, including café owner Dina, take the musicians in for the night.
For those expecting a whiz-bang Broadway show, The Band’s Visit, which opens on Jan 28, is not that. There’s one large production number, but much of the show is quiet and intimate with solos filling the space between dialogue. As Now Toronto noted, it “feels at times like a play with music.” The Band’s Visit is a show about the transforming power of music, to be sure, with themes about what happens when strangers are welcomed. But, like the 2007 Israeli movie it’s based on, it’s more contemplation than cacophony.
“I think this musical caught the imagination the way it did because its unique; it's unlike any piece of theater I've ever seen or had the pleasure to be a part of,” says Janet Dacal, who plays Dina. “The story is profound and humanistic, and I think audiences see themselves in these characters even though they may not share the same cultural background.”
The history of the Middle East has been fraught with disputes over land and religion and punctuated by violence and distrust. Those issues simmer under the story of The Band’s Visit, but the show is much more focused on what happens when people of different backgrounds come together, not as members of an opposing group, but as individual people. When this bedraggled Egyptian band winds up in this middle-of-nowhere little town, both the lives of the townspeople and the band members are changed.
“The show is a reminder that when we embrace strangers, rather than push them away, they can impact us in beautiful and meaningful ways,” says Dacal, who won a Drama Desk Award for her performance of Carla in the original Broadway production of In The Heights.
Composer David Yazbek has incorporated Middle Eastern motifs throughout the music in the show, which is performed by musicians onstage rather than in an orchestra pit. Audiences should listen for authentic Arabic instruments, including the lute-like oud and the darbuka, a goblet drum, as well as hints of klezmer and American jazz. They can also keep an ear out for references to Middle Eastern life, such as Dina’s ballad “Omar Sharif,” which tells the story of how she would watch movies as a child starring the Lawrence of Arabia actor.
For Dacal, The Band’s Visit is an opportunity to show audiences how we, as people, are much more alike than we are different. The story of love and acceptance is one she hopes they’ll not only lose themselves in but take with them as they leave the theater.
“I hope they will let themselves be swept away by the depth and authenticity of this music and this story,” she says.
Thru Feb 2. Tickets from $35. More info and tickets at thehobbycenter.org