Review: The Band’s Visit Broadway Preview

Dina and Tewfiq in The Band’s Visit, Production Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Have you ever walked out of a show or restaurant with ordinary satisfaction, yet have the sense memories linger? Some experiences are quietly powerful in that way, and The Band’s Visit is one of them.

Based on a 2007 Israeli film with the same name. The Band’s Visit is devoid of the glitz and glamour I usually associate with Broadway musicals. This is a modern musical. More of a play with singing than your traditional song & dance numbers. If I were asked to describe the show in 2 words, I would say Sensual and Kind. Strange description for a show, I know, I promise to elaborate. But first, let me tell you how I came to see the show.

I saw The Band’s Visit during its Broadway Preview as a spur of the moment decision. It was during a extended stopover in NYC, and the main goal of the stopover is to see Ben Platt in Dear Evan Hansen before he finishes his run. I had less than 48 hours in NYC and the focus was musicals. After the emotional Dear Evan Hansen the previous evening and a disappointed Phantom of the Opera matinee earlier that day, I wanted to see something new and different to end my time in NYC. I decided on The Band’s Visit because I’ve read some positive things but knew very little about the show.

The Ethel Barrymore Theater was a smaller theater. My seats were excellent, 5th row right side orchestra. It’s close enough to observe the subtleties of facial expressions and far enough that details like microphone placement or visible heavy makeup will not bother me.

Now on to the Actual Review, this part will contain some minor spoilers. But I would argue that it shouldn’t affect your enjoyment of this show because the beauty of this production lies not in its clever plot line, but in your reaction.

The story is about an Egyptian Police Band that end up stranded in a small Israeli desert village overnight. With no bus or hotel, the members turn to locals for help. Now, pause here for a minute. Think of how you expect the story to unfold. The brilliant part of the story is that it doesn’t follow the stereotypical plot. There’s very little drama but the seemingly ordinary mundane proceedings are laden with big emotional realizations. It is very much a show where nothing is happening yet everything is happening.

To Me, The Band’s Visit is sensual and kind.

Tewfig and Dina in The Band’s Visit, Production Photo by Matthew Murphy.

First up, Sensual. The sensuality of the show mainly came in the form of lead Actress Katrina Lenk as Dina, owner of the local Cafe. From the minute she stepped onto the stage, her presence exuded sensuality. From her posture, the angle of her hip, to the quirk of her lips, Dina’s presence was a stark contrast to her seemingly mundane environment. Her voice is wistful and sultry in THE song of the show – Omar Sharif. It is a beautiful wistful ballad as Dina remembers the Egyptian music and movies in her childhood, the fascination with their exotic beauty. It evokes my own memories of songs describing mythical stories and how they took me somewhere strange and wonderful far far away.

Next, Kind. This is the quality that stood out to me the most in this show. There is a profound kindness permeating the whole show. It is incredibly difficult to describe in words. Think of a series of independent choices, then have every decision maker choose the gentler kinder option. There’s no big gestures, just ordinary human kindness. It is a reminder that as humans, we are united in grief and loss, love and compassion. Unfortunately you’ll have to watch The Band’s Visit to understand what I inadequately tried to convey.

Now, the other awesome things about this show. The members of the band are also the musicians for the show. They are absolutely brilliant, and add an organic energy to the whole set. I cannot stress enough the absolute genius way the music is integrated. There is inherent humor in the premise of the plot which was used effectively without being over the top. Papi Hears the Ocean is my second favorite song, it describes the local boy Papi’s inability to talk to girls with wildly entertaining singing. The set is simple but effective, the rotating center stage used to represent different time and location.

Papi andHaled in The Band’s Visit, Production Photo by Matthew Murphy.

The best part of this show is also its drawback. As I mentioned at the beginning, this experience is Quietly powerful. There’s no big dramatic climax or resolution. It doesn’t give you a satisfying ending with all plots wrapped up. It doesn’t take you on a emotional roller coaster. I didn’t walk away wowed and shaking with excitement. In fact I heard my sentiment echoed by other audience members at the end of the night. But my mind kept coming back to specific moments and re-living them. That is a rare delight. In fact, I listened to Omar Sharif on Youtube while writing this post.

Other miscellaneous observations: there was no Intermission. I have never been to a Broadway preview before, so I’m not sure if The Band’s Visit just didn’t have a intermission or if that’s the way the previews are.

Ultimately I say go see The Band’s Visit. Expect something different. I can’t promise you’ll be wowed, but I hope just like I was, you’ll be moved.

 

Disclaimer: I have paid for everything with my own money, and all opinions expressed are my own honest thoughts.