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The Band’s Visit ~ The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Jordan Wright
July 16, 2019 

The Band’s Visit is a timeless musical, a romantic intrigue, and a wryly funny tale based on a true story.  You may have seen the movie, but the musical allows the story to be fully fleshed out bringing to life the story of a 7-piece classical Arab band known as the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra and its conductor, Colonel Tewfiq, and how they all wind up in a dusty desert town in Israel where no one is expecting them.  Winner of ten Tony Awards including “Best Musical” and “Best Original Score”, the sultry number “Omar Sharif” was performed on the night of the 2018 awards.  Countless other prestigious theater awards have showered down upon this tenderhearted tale with original screenplay written by Eran Kolirin, book by Itamar Moses with composer/lyricist David Yazbek, and beautifully directed by David Cromer.  It stars Sasson Gabay, who played the lead in the film version, as well as Chilina Kennedy (Carole King in Beautiful on Broadway), Pomme Koch and Joe Joseph, both of whom were in the Broadway cast.

‘The Band’s Visit,’ now playing at The Kennedy Center. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Imagine Tel Aviv in 1996.  Egyptian music and movies have been banned even though generations of Israelis have thrilled to the haunting voice of the internationally famous singer, Umm Kulthum, and films starring the divinely suave and handsome Egyptian box-office idol, Omar Sharif (Lawrence of Arabia and Dr. Zhivago).  It is a fraught time, not so different from today, when cultures are separated by politics or war, and borders, real or imagined, are redrawn or redefined.  And it is how Tewfiq and Dina find their music connection.

When the youthful Haled purchases the band’s tickets and mistakenly gives the wrong name for their destination, his miscommunication sends the men to Bet Hatikva, a tiny town where nothing ever happens and where the song “Waiting”, sung by the residents of the town, describes their ennui.  At the café the musicians meet the lovely and fiery Dina, owner of the town’s sole café, who finds them homes to stay for a single night till the next day’s bus can take them to their correct destination.

Chilina Kennedy as Dina and Sasson Gabay as Tewfiq in ‘The Band’s Visit.’ Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Nine musicians – including players of the traditional Arab instruments oud, darbouka and riq – perform all the numbers onstage in a sort of musical ballet assisted by a rotating center stage.  This beautifully expressed musical accompaniment weaves together the characters’ personal stories enhancing their shared communion with their temporary hosts.  The story centers around the initial awkwardness of the two separate cultures attempting to understand each other’s cultural differences, ultimately discovering that they are more similar than not, and that love and family and the universality of music are at the heart of the human connection.

‘The Band’s Visit,’ now playing at The Kennedy Center. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Highly recommended.  Take everyone you know!

With Chilina Kennedy (Carole King in Beautiful on Broadway) as Dina; Sasson Gabay as Tewfiq; Pomme Koch as Itzik; Joe Joseph as Haled; Mike Cefalo as Telephone Guy; Adam Gabay as Papi; Ronnie Malley as Camal; David Studwell as Avrum; Jennifer Apple as Anna; Marc Ginsburg as Sammy; Kendal Hartse as Iris; Sara Kapner as Julia; James Rana as Simon; and Or Schraiber as Zelger.  The Band is conducted by Rick Bertone, Music Director – with Tony Bird, George Crotty, Evan Francis, Roger Kashou, and Ronnie Malley.

Choreography by Patrick McCollum; Scenic Design by Scott Pask; Sound Design by Kai Harada; Costume Design by Sarah Laux; Lighting Design by Tyler Micoleau.

Through August 4th at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in the Eisenhower Theater – 2700 F St., NW, Washington, DC.  For tickets and information call 202 467-4600 or visit www.Kennedy-Center.org

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