Broadway in Chicago Presents THE BAND’S VISIT – a subtle musical weave, Chicago Best Play pick, Now through September 15
Awkwardness animates nearly every scene of THE BAND’S VISIT, the Tony-winning musical that runs through September 15 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. Based on a 2007 movie, THE BAND’S VISIT deposits the hapless Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra in the wrong Israeli town because of a translation error. The Egyptian group is scheduled to perform at the Arab Cultural Center in the thriving city of Petah Tikva. Instead they end up in the desert village of Bet Hatikva. Awkward.
Stiffly dressed in powder blue uniforms, the musicians use their limited English to convey their plight to the jeans-clad Israelis gathered in the town café. The Israelis, whose English is only slightly better than the Egyptians, use sarcasm and wit to bridge the communication gap. The locals are not unfriendly; they’re not even troubled that these strangers are Arabs. They’re just used to stasis. “We are experts at waiting,” they sing. The band must wait till the next bus out – and that won’t be till the following morning. Awkward again. Within a few moments, the blunt Israelis, led by the café’s proprietor Dina, have arranged places for the polite Egyptians to spend the night.
Frozen lives on a fluid turntable in THE BAND’S VISIT
Director David Cromer stages the story with delicacy, often gliding characters on a turntable – the one notable device besides projections in a production that is otherwise stripped of technical flourish. Set designer Scott Pask creates nocturnal nothingness with utilitarian concrete buildings and a few dots of illumination. A phone booth, topped with a small piercing light, shifts location but remains a point of focus: A young Israeli waits patiently for his girlfriend’s call while an Egyptian musician waits less patiently to reach the band’s organizers. A baby’s crib in the home of a troubled couple becomes a gently-lit haven of serenity. A roller rink’s disco balls provide a bit of escapist sparkle.
The show drifts through the night with those trapped – either by travel or fate – in a place that offers little more than survival. At the story’s heart are Tewfiq (Sasson Gabay), the dignified widower who leads the band, and Dina (Chilina Kennedy), an aging, wisecracking beauty who, among other regrets, missed having children because she wasted too many years on “nonsense.” Worlds apart, the pair move past their cultural and personal differences when they land upon the movies of Omar Sharif. Dina’s solo “Omar Sharif” has become THE BAND’S VISIT’s signature number and Kennedy fills it with immense richness. Instead of dancing, the couple express rising emotions through hand and arm movements that suggest “the jasmine wind” described in the song.
Broadway in Chicago goes off the standard grid
A subtle weave of minor incidents, THE BAND’S VISIT goes off the standard Broadway musical grid. There are no big numbers and no major crises to drive the plot. The score is composed mostly of ballads with instrumental interludes provided by the band’s musicians who cluster in different combinations at different moments. The music flows smoothly in contrast to the bumpy encounters between the characters. Eventually, as modest connections occur, awkwardness fades and recognition emerges.
This is not a showy show. THE BAND’S VISIT strikes this viewer as a mood piece that will appeal to those willing to close out distractions and follow a brief interruption in the lives of ordinary people.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves
Chilina Kennedy, SassonGabay, Pomme Koch, Joe Joseph, Mike Cefalo, Adam Gabay, Ronnie Malley, David Studwell, Jennifer Apple, Danny Burgos, Marc Ginsburg, Kendal Hartse, Sara Kapner, Loren Lester, Ahmad Maksoud, James Rana, Nick Sacks, Or Schraiber, Hannah Shankan, Bligh Voth
David Yazbek (Music & Lyrics), Itamar Moses (Book), David Cromer (Director), Patrick McCollum (Choreographer), Andrea Grody & Dean Sharenow (Musical Supervisors), Scott Pask (Scenic Design), Sarah Laux (Costume Design), Tyler Micoleau, Kai Harada (Sound Design), Maya Ciarrocchi (Projection Design), Charles L. LaPointe (Hair & Wig Design)
Now through September 15
Tuesdays – Fridays at 7:30 PM
Saturdays at 2:00 &8:00 PM
Sundays at 2:00 (added 7:30 PM performance on 9/15)
Cadillac Palace Theatre
151 W. Randolph St.
About the Author
Susan Lieberman is a Jeff-winning playwright, journalist, teacher and script consultant who commits most of her waking hours to Chicago theatre. Her radio drama In the Shadows aired on BBC Radio 4 last season.