Thursday, December 14, 2017

Harmonic Convergence: On Broadway, 'The Band’s Visit' is Enjoyable, but Never Quite Thrilling — New York Theater Review

Theater Review

The Band’s Visit
a new musical
Ethel Barrymore Theater, New York
Open Run

Weeks before I visited New York this past weekend, and well before the show opened on Broadway, garnered strong reviews and became a commercial hit, I had bought myself a ticket to The Band’s Visit.

Admittedly, other than Springsteen on Broadway—my ability to buy a face value ticket for which was decidedly the impetus for this trip—there wasn’t much else on Broadway I felt imperative to attend.

Certainly, I would have liked to see current smash, Dear Evan Hansen, but tickets were long sold out and expensive on the aftermarket. And as with Waitress, another fairly recent show I’ve never seen, it’s already slated to be part of an upcoming Broadway in Chicago subscription series, though exact dates haven’t been announced.

I'd have been happy to catch Bette Midler in Hello, Dolly! but didn't care enough to pay a premium, and had seen most of the other hit shows previously on Broadway, in Chicago or elsewhere (such as Come From Away, which I saw last fall in Washington, DC).

Although I’d seen it multiple times in Chicago, for Friday night in NYC I decided to get a reasonably-priced balcony seat for The Phantom of the Opera, which will celebrate its 30th straight year on Broadway in just a few weeks.

And I also secured a Sunday balcony seat for The Band’s Visit, my interest multi-fold.

The new musical—something that in itself intrigues—is based on a 2007 Israeli movie that I had seen and enjoyed. The basic premise is that an Egyptian Police band arrives in Israel to play as invited guests at a cultural center, but wind up in the wrong town, dependent on the kindness of local villagers.

David Yazbek wrote the music and lyrics, and I’d liked his work on The Full Monty and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels musicals.

Tony Shalhoub, whose work I’ve enjoyed since the Wings sitcom—though I never watched Monk—is the male lead.

And Chicagoan David Cromer, whose work as an actor and director I’d long seen around the Windy City, directs.

The 90-minute, intimate musical worked well, logistically, as a 3pm matinee, my last bit of NYC fun before heading to the airport.

And from stellar reviews I’d read, I understood that in virtually every way, The Band’s Visit is a far cry from The Phantom of the Opera and many other big Broadway musicals, with far less bombast, relatively simple set designs, no overt production numbers, high powered songs, fancy costumes, chorus lines, etc.

Thanks to Shalhoub, who plays the band’s leader, Tewfiq, the wonderful Katrina Lenk as Dina, a local restaurateur, fine work from those portraying band members and local residents, and a delicate but rich score by Yazbek, it is a likable, even lovely, musical.

But I didn’t find it a thrilling one, even in appreciating its subtlety, which served to abet themes of peaceful, cordial interaction among Jews and Arabs without ever needing to pump up the pathos.

I can certainly understand why The Band's Visit has earned plenty of accolades—including multiple awards for its brief Off-Broadway run—and why many attendees may truly love it. I have nothing negative to say about it, except that I just wasn't that smitten.

There are nice songs—including the opening townsfolk group number, "Waiting," "Omar Sharif" (Dina's ode to the famed Egyptian actor), "The Beat of Your Heart" and "Something Different"—and nice characterizations, such as a local couple (played by John Cariani and Kristen Sieh) who welcome band members into their home.

And with several quite human interactions among the musicians and residents—including one long waiting for a call on the sole public phone, another shyly longing for love in roller rink—in many ways it's commendable that Cromer, Yazbek and co. never feel the need to take things over the top.

But at the end of the day—or in this case around 4:30pm—I was decidedly left thinking, "That was nice" rather than, "Oh, wow! That was amazing."

Certainly, some may much more fervently embrace this rather muted musical, and The Band's Visit should well be on the shortlist of anyone looking for something new to see on Broadway.

It just wasn't the highlight of my visit.

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