Let the music play for ‘The Band’s Visit’

COSTA MESA (News4usonline) – No one can expect the unexpected as life is a continuous revolving door of surprise that can either enhance or deter our existence. While there are plenty of stories about bold adventures and courageous heroism, the simple and quiet narratives can sometimes be the loudest.

This is the case for the musical, “The Band’s Visit,” as the leisurely paced show embraces a softer tone than most musicals. The setting envelopes you to feel each character’s plight making the entire experience a more personal endeavor as the audience witnesses the sentimental journey of a serendipitous mistake.

Based on the film written and directed by Eran Kolirin, “The Band’s Visit,” is about how individuals from different backgrounds can coexist and how each person wants to feel appreciated and loved regardless of their weary past.

Segerstrom Center for the Arts – The company of The Band’s Visit North American Tour. Photo by Evan Zimmerman, MurphyMade

The themes of forgiveness, empathy and compassion encompass the show’s narrative while providing a humbling understanding that regardless of our differences we want to be noticed for our current ability to change and better ourselves.

When the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra from Egypt arrives in Israel to perform in the city of Petah Tikvah, the bus takes the band to the isolated desert town of Bet Hatikva by mistake. This unfortunate happenstance leads to the main focus of the show. The band are strangers to their new environment and seek help from the downtrodden townies.

The musical is mostly silent as there is not a lot of forced ambiance or score that accompanies the performance other than the actual musical numbers. Although this may feel uncomfortable at first, the notion is to set up the seemingly boring and rural town of Bet Hatikva and push the audience to fully engage in the story by listening to every piece of dialogue while being captive to the same restrictions and setting as the main protagonist has lived through their entire lives.

Segerstrom Center for the Arts – Janet Dacal and Sasson Gabay. Photo by Evan Zimmerman, MurphyMade

However, when the music finally plays and fills the theater, there is a sense of elation as this bland world is entrenched with the color of sound. The band as an ensemble play a crucial role in the musical as most members play their respective instrument on stage.

This is not a new troupe, but one that works well for this particular story. The music is the bridge between the Israelites and Egyptians who find commonality in their love of song which feels like a sense of reprieve in a world full of stillness.

Although the orchestra provides a much-needed liveliness to the somber setting, it is the cafe owner Dina (played by Janet Dacal) that gives the show its heart. The emotionally scarred, but sharply witted woman steals the spotlight as most of the memorable songs and moments are centered around her character.

Decal’s vocals in “Welcome to Nowhere,” and  “It is What it is,” are tragically beautiful, but it is her rendition of the intoxicating ballad  “Omar Sharif” that made my eyes well from her sensational voice.

The performance by Sasson Gabay, who portrayed Tawfiq in the film version of “The Band’s Visit” was a marvelous treat to witness and Joe Joseph as the young and eager Haled gave a much-needed blithe to the musical.

The two actors had great chemistry in a pseudo father-son relationship that builds throughout the show and pays off by the end of the play.

Segerstrom Center for the Arts – The company of The Band’s Visit North American Tour. Photo by Matthew Murphy

The rest of the ensemble cast are great as they wonderfully use their charismatic charm to bring their mundane world and fill it with life. There is a sense of tragedy that lingers throughout Bet Hatikva, as each performer is able to convey a vast history of hardships with their effortless mannerisms.

This show is not for everyone. It is a slow burn that is mostly quiet and dark with a profound story of connection and forgiveness told in a methodical format that may be uncomfortable for audience members seeking the standard bombastic musical.

This is not a show that panders to the status quo but wants to challenge you to appreciate the significance of watching a play about a world with people who have little opportunity to have casual entertainment themselves.

“The Band’s Visit” won the Tony for Best Musical in 2018 for its exceptional performance, score and writing. It is a distinctive show that isolates itself from the habitual offerings of full orchestras and large ensembles. It is a simple, strong and romantic story that has a universal message that is extremely relevant today.

Featured Image: Segerstrom Center for the Arts – Segerstrom Center for the Arts – Sasson Gabay and Janet Dacal. Photo by Evan Zimmerman, MurphyMade