'The Band's Visit' has taken Broadway by storm and become a must-see musical overnight — after seeing it, I understand why
The Insider Picks team writes about stuff we think you'll like. Business Insider has affiliate partnerships, so we get a share of the revenue from your purchase.
"The Band's Visit" recently completed a near-perfect sweep of the 2018 Tony Awards, winning 10 of the 11 for which it was nominated, including the top honor of Best Musical.
I saw the Broadway show and was blown away.
The 90-minute show is a slow burn, but once you're won over by the characters and their stories, you're completely hooked and kept along for the ride by a talented band that plays entrancing Middle Eastern musical interludes on stage.
Since its Off Broadway premiere at The Atlantic Theater Company in 2016, "The Band's Visit" has crept quietly to success.
The small, understated show made the leap to Broadway in November 2017 to overwhelming critical acclaim, yet remained overshadowed by its much-hyped Broadway competitors, the likes of "SpongeBob Squarepants," "Mean Girls," and "Frozen."
"The Band's Visit's" real splash came this June when it completed a near-perfect sweep of the Tony Awards, winning 10 of the 11 for which it was nominated, including the top honor of Best Musical, beating out three musicals with significantly more name recognition.
Though I'd been told by friends and critics alike that the show was worth seeing from the time it was running at The Atlantic, it never had much appeal to me — at least not enough to warrant the price of admission. But when the Tony committee speaks, any good theater-goer listens. So I made the trip to "The Band's Visit" hoping this little show would prove itself.
I was blown away.
An adaptation of a 2007 Israeli film of the same name, the play takes place over the course of one evening in the tiny desert town of Bet Hatikva, Israel. An Egyptian police orchestra, bound for the similarly named town of Petah Tikvah, are accidentally given bus tickets to the wrong place. Stranded overnight with nowhere to go, the band gets to know the residents of "Nowhere" who are shaken out of their daily monotony by this new presence.
"The Band's Visit" portrays the Arab-Israeli conflict in a way I've never seen before. We're offered glimpses of the historical tension, but it's never a major part of the narrative.
Itamar Moses, the book writer for "The Band's Visit," told Business Insider, "Yes, this tension is in the air and this history is something that everyone is intuitively aware of, but as the story goes on, it becomes about people in need of some very basic things — food, a place to stay, and human connection."
The show relies on previous audience knowledge of the history of the region to color its tone. "Everyone brings that knowledge with them into the theater, and then you can play off of that by subverting people's expectations," Moses continues. Audiences may go in expecting clash and conflict, but are instead met with everyday people extending a hand to strangers in a tough spot. It doesn't really make a show of the simple kindness either, and therein lies the profundity of "The Band's Visit." It uses audience expectations of what might happen when Israelis and Egyptians meet and challenges that to bring audiences a simple story of compassion and grace.
I've previously described this show as "small," which might sound odd considering it's an ensemble cast of 14 actors playing eight shows a week to an audience of over 1,000 — but in comparison to your "Hello, Dolly's" and your "Hamilton's," "The Band's Visit" is small in many ways. It lacks show-stopping numbers, there are no sequins or tap shoes (though there are roller skates), and you're in and out of the theater in a quick 90 minutes.
Yet this show slowly creeps its way into your heart and makes you ache for the human connection it lays out on stage. The Bet Hatikva residents possess a profound loneliness that the presence of Tewfik — originally played by Tony Shalhoub, now played by Sasson Gabai who originated the role in the film — and his band begin to dissolve. Dina, a cafe owner played by the utterly mesmerizing Katrina Lenk, is the first to offer the band solace and begin the chain of events that will leave a sleepy, stagnant town and a regimented police band forever changed.
Like the characters who remain skeptical until softened by the charm of simple connection, "The Band's Visit" is a slow burn, but once you're won over by the characters and their stories, you're completely hooked and kept along for the ride by a talented band that plays entrancing Middle Eastern musical interludes on stage.
"The Band's Visit" also provides a rare opportunity for actors of Middle Eastern descent to play Middle Eastern characters. Ari'el Stachel, who took home the Tony for Best Featured Actor in a Musical for his portrayal of Haled, explained in his Tony acceptance speech, "For so many years of my life I pretended I was not a Middle Eastern person. […] I am part of a cast of actors who never believed that they'd be able to portray their own races and we are doing that. […] I want any kid that's watching to know that your biggest obstacle may turn into your purpose."
In an artistic landscape that often comes under fire for racial casting decisions gone wrong, "The Band's Visit" is refreshingly progressive in its commitment to creating opportunities for actors that they had previously believed might never come.
I often recommend that people go into a show with an open mind. I'm going to recommend something a bit different for this one. Go into "The Band's Visit" with all your knowledge of Middle Eastern politics, all your assumptions of how the Arab-Israeli conflict manifests itself in everyday life, and all your preconceived notions of what a Broadway show should be. Let "The Band's Visit" do its work on your expectations, and you'll come out on the other side changed in a way you can't quite put your finger on.
Find tickets for "The Band's Visit" from $59