Reviews: Stage, Music & Film
The Band’s Visit
Ethel Barrymore Theatre, New York City, (212) 239-6200
“It’s time to fall in love again,” said Ben Brantley in The New York Times. “An honest-to-God musical for grown-ups,” The Band’s Visit arrives on Broadway ready to prove that the genre’s best shows don’t all have to be big and brash. The audience is actually warned not to expect much by text projected onstage. “Once, not long ago,” the prologue reads, “a group of musicians came to Israel from Egypt. You probably didn’t hear about it. It wasn’t very important.” But then unfolds “one of the most ravishing musicals you will ever be seduced by,” an adaptation of a 2007 Israeli movie that “flows with the grave and joyful insistence of life itself,” buoyed by a “close to perfect” score and a “magnificent” turn by co-star Katrina Lenk.
Geopolitics plays barely any role, said Dana Schwartz in Entertainment Weekly. The centuries of conflict between Jews and Arabs is backstory only—“a metaphorical held breath” that here gives way to “a slow, easy exhale.” A visiting police orchestra from Alexandria has wound up, owing to the language barrier, stranded for 24 hours in a remote desert town, where the uniformed musicians are taken in by a local café owner and her regulars. As connections begin to form—over music, food, and everyday concerns—the band’s leader (a “wonderfully buttoned-up” Tony Shalhoub) develops a strong interest in Lenk’s divorced restaurateur. “Perhaps the most important character,” though, is an unnamed young man who does little but linger near a pay phone waiting for his girlfriend to call. “This is a play about waiting, and loneliness, and the human need to connect.”
The music definitely connects, said Terry Teachout in The Wall Street Journal. David Yazbeck’s songs come across as “a savory mixture of Egyptian pop music, Israeli klezmer, and cool American jazz,” and they’re “so fresh-sounding that you can scarcely believe they’re being sung on a Broadway stage.” Yes, the story they serve proves “a bit of a fairy tale,” given the way it suggests that a little bit of love can resolve all Middle East conflicts. Still, The Band’s Visit easily ranks as “the best musical of the year.” It “fills you with fresh hope for a genre that has lately been running on fumes.”