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Regional Reviews: Cincinnati

The Band's Visit
National Tour
Review by Scott Cain


Sasson Gabay and Janet Dacal
Photo by Evan Zimmerman, MurphyMade
It's been said that successful musicals typically are either about big events or big characters. The Band's Visit, whose touring production is currently playing at the Aronoff Center in Cincinnati, breaks this mold. It is an unusual show that focuses on deeply personal character relationships instead. This humorous, smile-inducing production features a versatile and talented cast and is likely to be one of the only opportunities to see a quality production of this intriguing musical.

The Band's Visit is based on the 2007 Israeli film of the same name. It follows the actions of the members of a small Egyptian orchestra who get stranded overnight in a tiny desert town in Israel on their way to play a concert in a different city. The show won ten Tony Awards in 2017, including Best Musical.

The book for the musical by Itamar Moses focuses on the relationships among very different people, with authentically drawn characters interacting with one another. Instead of falling chandeliers or flying witches, this intellectual musical thoughtfully explores the impact and importance of connecting with others, even if one has to wait patiently for those connections to materialize. With subtle humor and a quiet overall script, this is a unique show that requires an audience's attention and focus.

David Yazbek may not be a household name, but he should be. This composer/lyricist has provided the scores for The Full Monty, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Women On the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, and Tootsie on Broadway. For The Band's Visit, he created a collection of songs that flow organically from the material. There are several very funny songs, such as "Waiting" and "Papi Hears the Ocean," which contain wit and interesting musical cadences. There are also beautiful, haunting numbers which both melodically and through the lyrics convey passion and longing, including "Omar Sharif," "Something Different," and "Answer Me." The score also contains instrumental songs for the band which provide an opportunity to witness some true musicianship up close and personal.

Director David Cromer has staged the material at a very deliberate pace, which accurately captures the mundane life of the residents of the town. While the slow action is different from most musicals, it's appropriate here. Smooth transitions, a focus on the relationships of the characters, and the use of musical interludes by the band provide variety and energy. Choreographer Patrick McCollum supplies more stage movement than traditional dances. In addition to the onstage musicians, Adrian Ries leads a separate, great sounding 10-piece pit band.

Sasson Gabay portrayed Tewfiq, the leader of the orchestra, in the original 2007 film and he re-creates the role here, skillfully presenting the reserved, cordial manner of the character while also displaying the glimpses of compassion and humanity the role requires. As Dina, Janet Dacal (Wonderland, In The Heights) drolly embodies the hopelessness of the denizens of her desert town while also displaying sass and sultriness. Her singing is first rate, and she is a perfect counterbalance to Tewfiq's formal nature.

Other performers also have the chance to shine in supporting roles. Ali Louis Bourzgui impresses as the womanizing Haled with "Haled's Song About Love," and David Studwell brings warmth and enthusiasm as Avrum. Coby Getzug (Papi) and Clay Singer (Itzik) both garner laughs in their roles while also capturing the challenges of everyday life. Kudos to the actor/musicians who make up the Egyptian band, as each provides a solid characterization and great musical skill with their instruments.

Scott Pask's scenic design is versatile and accurately depicts the bland surroundings and muted colors of the setting. The lighting by Tyler Micoleau incorporates shadows with skill and likewise captures the starkness of the various locales (except for the fun disco balls at the skating rink). The costumes by Sarah Laux include some fun details and are period and setting appropriate.

The Band's Visit is an intimate and quirky musical, both funny and touching, and features a unique score by one of Broadway's best songwriters. This touring production provides a top-notch cast and the chance to see the original Tony Award winning staging, which will be difficult to match in future stagings.

The Band's Visit runs through July 24, 2022, at the Aronoff Center, 650 Walnut St., Cincinnati OH. For tickets and information, call 513-621-2787 or visit cincinnati.broadway.com. For more information on the tour, visit thebandsvisitmusical.com.


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