THE BAND’S VISITMusic and Lyrics by David Yasbek
Book by Itamar Moses
Dallas Summer Musicals
Directed by David Cromer
Music Direction by Rick Bertone
Scenic Design by Scott Pask
Costume Design by Sarah Laux
Lighting Design by Tyler Micoleau
Sound Design by Kai Harada
Hair and Wig Design by Charles G. LaPointe
Dialect Coaching by Zohar Tirosh-Polk and Ronnie Malley
Dina – Janet Dacal
Tewfiq – Sasson Gabay
Itzik – Pomme Koch
Haled – Joe Joseph
Telephone Guy – Mike Cefalo
Papi – Adam Gabay
Camal – Ronnie Malley
Avrum – David Studwell
Anna – Jennifer Apple
Sammy – Mark Ginsburg
Iris – Kendal Hartse
Julia – Sara Kapner
Simon – James Rana
Zelger – Or Schraiber
The Band – Tony Bire, George Crotty, Evan Francis, Roger Kashou, Ronnie Malley
Reviewed Performance: 2/5/2020
Reviewed by Chris Jackson, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
“Where words leave off, music begins.” Heinrich Heine
We’ve all experienced the power of music at one time or another, its ability to communicate what words cannot, and express the deepest feelings. “Music is a universal language,” in fact, has become a cliché, and like many clichés, has its basis in observed truth. People respond emotionally and even physically to music regardless of their nationality, education, or even willingness to be affected. We can be soothed by music, moved by it, and it can stir us to action.
Today, when the purpose of so many in authority seems to be focused on separating people both physically and emotionally, a show like this is a welcome relief from the daily barrage of anger and duplicitous rantings. “The Band’s Visit is about music bringing us together and human connection,” says the publicity for the show, and indeed what this outstanding production now onstage at the Winspear Opera House gives us is stunning visual and aural verification of that statement.
“Music can name the unnameable and communicate the unknowable.” Leonard Bernstein
Set in 1996, the story tells of an Egyptian police band that has been invited to perform a concert in Israel. A mix up at the bus station takes the band to the wrong small town with no transportation to remedy the situation ‘till morning. What happens over that evening, the reaction of the village people, and the band’s response, make up an interlude of music bringing people together, and human connection.
Based on the 2007 film of the same title, the musical opened in 2016 at the Atlantic Theater Company to critical acclaim, moved to Broadway in 2017, and played 589 regular performances after thirty-six previews, closing in 2019. The Tony Awards, Drama League, New York Drama Critics’ Circle, the Outer Critics Circle, the Lucille Lortel and the Obies all named the show “Best Musical.
“How is it that music can, without words, evoke our laughter, our fears, our highest aspirations?” Jane Swan
Janet Dacal as Dina and Sasson Gabay as Tewfiq are the lead characters in The Band’s Visit, and carry off their roles splendidly. Ms. Dacal is sensual and commanding as the owner of a café. Her movements are clean and direct, her relationship to each character is clear, and she lets us see the motivations and inner life of her character with every reaction and physical movement. Her singing, especially in the “Omar Sharif” number, and “Something Different” is assured, and lyrical. She commands the stage.
Mr. Gabay created the role of Tewfiq in the original 2007 Israeli film, and brings that history to his character in his portrayal. He is the central rock around which the story and the other characters swirl. Indeed, he is most often seated and still at the center of the action. Subtext and loneliness seem to surround him. The duet where he explains to Dina what it is like to conduct the orchestra (“Something Different”) is filled with tenderness, pride and the power of music. While Tewfiq explains in Arabic about conducting and the music, Dina sings, “Is this a hymn?/ Is this a love song?/ … Is he singing about two hearts searching in the darkness?/ Or is he singing about fishing?.. The tune seems sad, but are the words sad?” The music moves her, even if she doesn’t understand the words.
“The Beat of Your Heart,” is sung by David Studwell as Avrum, in which he describes how music played a part in his meeting his wife. “She was dancing with someone, but in music, all is fair. … Love starts with a downbeat/Love starts when the music starts/ Love starts when the tune is sweet/ And you lift your feet/ To the beat of your heart! … I smiled at her/ And she smiled at me/ And the music did the rest…. Maybe music is the food of love/ But music and love, who can tell them apart?” Mr. Studwell is warm and fully present as the father figure in this scene, and when the rest of the characters join in, this song becomes another statement about music’s power.
The show’s first musical number is called “Waiting” in which the townspeople talk about life in this small village. “Waiting…. You’re waiting, I’m waiting,…For something … to happen…for something to change…Sometimes it feels like we’re moving in a circle / Around and around with the same scenery going by” This number puts forth the other major theme of the show: yearning, waiting for the rest of your life, for a change, anything. The band’s visit, of course, brings major change to the lives of the people in this little town – and to their own.
Exemplifying that theme of waiting, the most potent symbol is Telephone Guy played by Mike Cefalo. This character waits each night by the only pay phone for his girlfriend to call. It has been months since he’s heard from her, and yet there he stands patiently, waiting. The director uses the character to enforce this theme by having him in the background, staring at the pay phone, scene after scene. “Answer Me” gives us the sweetest and best voice in the cast, as Mr Cefalo sings, “Here I am/… And the light is dying/ Where are you? Will you answer me?/… And my ears are thirsty/ For your voice…” Finally, at the end, the phone rings, and the entire village, each waiting for their own special something, joins in.
The entire cast is strong, and thanks to the stellar direction of Mr. Cromer, all are playing the same story, the same tone, and the same rhythms. Of this fine group, outstanding is Adam Gabay, in his geeky portrayal of the lovesick Papi, who sings the wonderful “Papi Hears the Ocean”. Joe Joseph as Haled, who sings “Haled’s Song About Love,” and Pomme Koch who sings the wonderful “Itzik’s Lullaby.” All are playing their intentions, and letting the emotions happen naturally.
Dialect coaches Zohar Tirosh Polk and Ronnie Malley must also be credited for making the characters ethnicity distinct and believable, and understandable.
“Music is the tool to express life – and all that makes a difference.” Herbie Hancock
Director David Cromer sets a pace that is slower than most musicals, and yet seems so right for this one. The scenes build, the songs flow naturally, and the moments, when they come, have been earned. Mr. Cromer blocks the action expertly, with focus always clear, stage pictures beautifully executed, and the overall effect one of crisp, clean, and tight story telling. Patrick McCollum is credited with the choreography. There are no “dances” is this unusual musical, and yet there is clearly choreographed movement and synchronized action that amplify moments and relationships. Humor and pathos exist side by side, and the rhythms of everyday life are recreated by Mr. McCollum and Director Cromer, “lifted” just enough to be theatrical without seeming forced.
Scott Pask’s scenic design! Turntables, revolving scenic pieces, and sections that trackd in and out give a cinematic sense of movement to the action. A basic grey color, which sounds dull, and yet somehow isn’t, pale blues, and architectural details in great detail add interest. Constantly changing lighting by Tyler Micoleau never intrudes, but indeed, accentuates emotions, character interplay and creates mood at times softly, and at other times, like the roller rink and its twirling mirror ball, loudly and expertly. Angles help tell the story as much as color and intensity.
Sarah Laux is credited with costume design. The time is 1996, and the place Israel. Ms. Laux creates costumes that identify each character exactly, and yet look like clothing and not costumes. The band’s pale blue uniforms, the accents of dark colors or accessories, the black dress Dina wears with red splashes, and the other choices that work so well, speak of an artist at the top of her craft. Hair and wigs by Charles G. LaPointe blend seamlessly into the character’s total look.
Kai Harada is responsible for sound design, and that ambient sound of radios, juke boxes, etc, completes the atmospheric environment of the piece. Music Director Rick Bertone works with the cast to produce exquisite sound for both the soloists, and the ensembles. The onstage band, composed of Toney Bird, George Crotty, Evan Francis, Roger Kashou, and Ronnie Malley provide the bedrock for the production, playing on stage as part of the action sometime, and sometime unobtrusively in the background. Their number after the curtain call brought people to their feet on opening night!
This is not Hello Dolly, Hamilton, nor even The Fantastics. This show exists in its own special world that invites and draws you in. Not with spectacle, not with huge dance numbers and a gigantic chorus, but with a story that compels, and a message to be savored.
In Twelfth Night, Shakespeare has a character say, “If music be the food of love, play on!” Music feeds love and understanding in The Band’s Visit, and the current brilliant touring production now on Stage at the Winspear Opera House, brought to town by Dallas Summer Musicals, will feed your soul with pleasure and optimism in this contentious time if you let it. See this production, and open yourself to finding common ground with those around you.
“When I hear music, I fear no danger. I am invulnerable. I see no foe. I am related to the earliest of times, and to the latest.” Henry David Thoreau
Dallas Summer Musicals
Winspear Opera House
2403 Flora St.
Final performance on Febrruary 23rd, 2020
Tickets $30-$155 subject to change