This show is a praise to the power of simplicity and small stories in little towns that usually don’t get featured in the spotlight. An unusual set of circumstances disrupts the daily life of a sleepy Israeli town. It leaves the audience in awe of the raw, real tale and an award-deserving, middle-eastern music score.
If you loved movies like “Chocolate” or musicals like “Come from Away”, this is a musical for you. “The Band’s Visit” is a winner of 10 Tony Awards and a Grammy for Best Musical Theatre Album – and after seeing it live, it’s just absolutely clear why.
In the quiet Israeli town of Beit Hatikva, a band of Egyptian musicians arrive – as we later find out, by mistake. As the next bus is scheduled for the morning, the band decides to stay – and gets hosted by the locals for the night. Unexpected connections are discovered between people of different cultures and religions – all facilitated by music.
This show is deceptively simple, yet it holds powerful messages hidden between the lines. As the plot unfolds, it smells like cinnamon and roast nuts, and like freshly caught fish. It transported me to a little town, with its slow lifestyle and tight-knit community. This production wraps every scene in a seemingly grey wrapper, but the voices of Miri Mesika (Dina) and Alon Moni Aboutboul (Tewfiq) – oh my, they make these songs taste like the finest candy in the world. “The Band’s Visit” has the actors display emotions so real and raw, I felt shivers down my spine. It is, after all, a story about music connecting people of different backgrounds and languages – something universal.
I have to say, I have listened to the Broadway cast recording for a long time, but what Mesika did with some of the arrangements, is just world-class. She didn’t try to exactly copy every note, and she made this strong female character completely her own. When she sings about her amazement with Tewfiq, we know it’s a ridiculous idea, for a romance with a passer-by – yet we cheer for her to finally get some happiness. And when she sings “Omar Sharif” – it’s such a dynamic, flawlessly sung arrangement – it’s not just Tewfiq who sits in awe -it’s the whole audience of Donmar Warehouse.
Aboutboul creates a beautiful, layered character. At first, he seems like just a well-mannered orchestra conductor, who steers away from talking about his own life story and feelings. But as the show progresses, and his true story gets revealed, everything just completely makes sense. His kindness and natural protectiveness over the band’s members.
It was my second time seeing Ashley Margolis in the West End – a couple of months ago, he shined as a loud, self-confident lead in “Bad Jews”. Here, playing a shy, patient, romantic man, he is almost unrecognisable. His solo, served at the end of the play, is a simple set of lyrics, but because his story is slowly built through the play, in the background – when he finally gets his moment in the spotlight, he takes it and owns it to the maximum.
The band, or rather an orchestra, is such a crucial part of the production. They participate in most of the scenes, but also create the musical magic in the back of the stage, playing arrangements and becoming a second part of the full band (the first half of it is based on the balcony on the side of the stage).
“The Band’s Visit” is a musical feast – raw, touching, and it feels incredibly authentic. To me, it’s just a perfectly executed show, and one that I know I would be happy to see many times again.
26 September 2022 – 3 December 2022, Donmar Warehouse
THE BAND’S VISIT
Music and lyrics by David Yazbek and Book by Itamar Moses
Based on the screenplay by Eran Kolirin