Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
The Band's Visit
The Band's Visit, which won the Tony Award for Best Musical in 2018 (and nine other Tonys, as well), not only aims for the heart, it strikes that organ dead center with the stealth of a ninja, for the emotional power of the show seems to sneak up on us, sidling its way into our psyches until it's too late to harden ourselves against the emotional power that director David Cromer, composer/lyricist David Yazbek, and bookwriter Itamar Moses unleash upon us.
The show, whose touring production opened this week at BroadwaySF's Golden Gate Theatre, is based on the 2007 film of the same name and takes place almost entirely in a small (fictional) Israeli town. The band of the title is the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra, which had been invited to play at the local Arab Cultural Center in the (real) Israeli town of Petah Tikvah. But, due to some confusion thanks to language differences, they accidentally purchase tickets for the bus to the similar-sounding Bet Hatikvah and end up stranded there for the night.
In the spirit of Come from Away, several of the locals, led by cafe owner Dina (Janet Dacal), offer to put the band members up for the night, as the last bus back to Tel Aviv has already left. One might think when Egyptians and Israelis are forced into close quarters thatgiven their historical enmity some political tensions might arise. You know, something on the order of "Your rocket attacks killed my uncle!" or "A suicide bomber cost my son his eyesight." Fortunately, The Band's Visit takes a far more subtle approach, and the few conflicts that arise between the visitors and the locals are insignificant, yet undeniably touching. Trumpet player Haled (Joe Joseph) has yet to meet a woman who doesn't deservein his mind at leasta long look and a sultry "You know Chet Baker?" before diving into his impression of Baker singing "My Funny Valentine." When one of the band members needs to use the only pay phone in town (the show takes place in 1996, before cell phones became ubiquitous), he finds Telephone Guy (Joshua Grosso) in his usual position: staring unblinkingly at the phone, anticipating a long-awaited call from his girlfriend. The two engage in a little dance of sorts, as the band member moves toward the phone, only to be stymied again and again by Telephone Guy. It's as funny as it is adorable.
The action moves from the cafe to villagers' homes to night clubs and to the streets of Bet Hatikvah as new friendships are formed and old secrets are revealed. Dina brings the band's conductor, Tewfiq (Sasson Gabay, reprising his role in the film of The Band's Visit) into her home, but Tewfiq wants to see the town, so they go out. And in, delving gently into each other's histories and heartbreaks. The other band members explore the little town, too, and Haled and Papi (Coby Getzug) end up on a double date with local girls at the local skating rink, where Haled finally convinces Papi to overcome his shyness.
At its heart, The Band's Visit seems to be a meditation on yearning: for a better life, for love, for forgiveness, for the comfort of forgetting troubling past events. When Telephone Guy, who has spoken perhaps fewer than 10 words to this point, finally breaks into the hauntingly gorgeous "Answer Me" (performed with heartbreaking loveliness by Grosso), it's as if a dam of longing has finally burst, and long-buried emotions come pouring outonly to be salved by the healing power of music, which the band provides in the finale, titled simply "The Concert." As you enjoy the thrilling rhythms, the mournful woodwinds, and the precise picking of the oud's dozen or so strings, remember that every person playing their instrument on stage is actually playing and not merely miming the actions of what a pit orchestra is playingsomething that makes the magic of The Band's Visit even more impressive.
Broadway can give you more than your share of flash, if that's what you're looking for. But if you desire somewhat more restrainedbut no less powerfulentertainment, The Band's Visit will open places in your heart you didn't even know existed.
The Band's Visit runs through February 6, 2022, at SHN's Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor Street, San Francisco CA. Tickets range from $56-$256, and are available by calling the box office at 888-746-1799 or by visiting broadwaysf.com. For more information on the tour, visit thebandsvisitmusical.com/tour/.