“The Band’s Visit”

Susan Granger’s review of “The Band’s Visit” (Barrymore Theater)


Adapted from a small, independent 2007 Israeli film and an ingratiating run last year at the Atlantic Theater Company’s intimate Linda Gross Theater, “The Band’s Visit” has landed on Broadway, courtesy of witty playwright Itamar Moses, composer/lyricist David Yazbek and director David Cromer.

It begins with: “Once not long ago, a group of musicians came to Israel from Egypt. You probably didn’t hear about it. It wasn’t so very important.”

When the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra reaches Tel Aviv, they’re supposed to be met by a representative of the Arab Cultural Center. Since no one greets them, they inadvertently purchase bus tickets to Bet Hatikva, instead of Petah Tikvah, where they’re scheduled to play a concert. If you don’t speak Hebrew, the names of the towns sound almost identical.

Problem is: desolate Bet Hatikva is, as the song goes, “Nowhere.”

“Stick a pin in a map of the desert/

Build a road to middle of the desert/

Pour cement on the spot in the desert/

That’s Bet Hatikva.”

Wearing their crisp, powder-blue uniforms (courtesy of Sarah Laux) and carrying instruments (which they play), they disembark, only to discover that another bus isn’t scheduled until the next morning.

Tony Shalhoub plays the band’s staid, protocol-conscious leader who is befriended by Katrina Lenk as a sultry, disillusioned woman who runs the local café/bar; they share a love of Omar Sharif and Egyptian movies.

Ari’el Stachel is a flirtatious young trumpeter; Alok Tewari is a career-blocked composer/clarinetist. Etai Benson is a shy, insecure teen. Andrew Polk is a loquacious grandpa with Kirsten Sieh as his resentful daughter and John Cariani as her out-of-work husband. And Adam Kantor as the lonely guy who waits by the public telephone, hoping to hear from his girlfriend.

“Very soon, very soon,” he sings, as his sentiment us echoed by the ensemble.

Inevitably, the evening leads to curious confusion, a bit of chaos and a large measure of compassion.

Scott Pask’s minimalist set cleverly utilizes a rotating stage, astutely lit by Tyler Micoleau, evoking the Negev desert at night….and there is no intermission.

“The Band’s Visit” is wistfully droll and charming, subtly incorporating various Middle Eastern influences, and should delight theater aficionados who enjoyed David Yazbek’s previous shows: “The Full Monty,” “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” and “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.”