This past Tuesday night the stage at DPAC saw the return of its Broadways Series after a pause of almost 570 days. The night also marked the triumphant relaunch of the national touring production of The Band’s Visit. It was wonderful to be back at DPAC and take in a show again and I can’t think of a more enjoyable show to kick off this latest season of musicals.
The Band’s Visit offers something quite different from most other Broadway musicals. It is just 100 minutes long with no intermission and is more intimate and conversational than most shows. Yes, it has its share of beautiful music and songs drawn from klezmer and Arabic classical traditions, but it isn’t a foot stomping extravaganza – and yet it is still so beautiful in its quiet and understated presentation.
I’m not surprised at all that this amazing show won the Tony Award for best musical and 2019 Grammy for best musical theater album with its moving songs by David Yzbek and exquisite script by Itamar Moses. The show opens with the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra arriving at an Israeli airport led by their straight-backed conductor, Tewfiq. Sasson Gabay is wonderful in this role and portrays the charactor with a dignity and stiffness of someone carrying the burden of a private grief just below their storng exterior. Tewfig and the band board a bus to travel to an engagement at the Arab Cultural Center in the city of Petah Tikva.
However, due to the language barrier and inevitable confusion at the ticket counter, they wind up instead in the small dessert town Bet Hatikva where they stick out like sore thumbs resembling members of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in their powder-blue uniforms.
The show the centers around detoured bands single night in the bleak town where the locals are friendly, but burdened by their isolation and perceived unimportance. Tewfig and his band of musicians find refuge at a local café where frustrated shop owner Dina, played by Janet Dacal, and the locals, in a mixture of pity and curiosity, feed the musicians and open their homes for the night, before they leave for their correct destination in the morning.
The connections between the Egyptian musicians and the Israeli locals are inevitably incomplete, a theme that carries throughout the story – whether its communicating through broken English, the long wait for a phone call that never comes, or tinkering with an unfinished music composition, each character in their own way longs to find resolution to unfinished business. The revolving set adds to this theme, creating a world in which life seems to spin in an endless circle.
Dacal puts on a masterful performance as the frustrated yet witty café owner stuck in a one-horse town with few prospects of getting out. She has made a lot of missteps in life and owns the fact that she is where she is in life through her own doing. Tewfiq and Dina seem like an unlikely romance and ultimately serve as another incomplete connection, yet you can’t help to feel uplifted by the brief time they share together.
The Band’s Visit is a special show and I can see why it is loved by so many. At its core this is a story of reflection and the painful realities of life as we age and make our way through stages of longing, settling, and acceptance. It isn’t flashy or fast, but uses the power of music to inspire and show how even when we find ourselves out of place or out of step in life, we can always find our way back and connect with one another and feel alive again.
The Band’s Visit takes is playing now through Sunday, October 10th at DPAC. For tickets visit: https://www.dpacnc.com/events/detail/the-bands-visit