By Eugene Paul
new star Katrina Lenk and shining stellar Tony Shalhoub head a brilliant cast
in a brilliant, loving new show.
they are, fresh, crisp and immensely proper – except for Haled (marvelous
Ari’El Stachel), who is flirting as usual – the Alexandria Ceremonial Police
Orchestra right off the plane from Egypt in their sky blue uniforms, at the bus
station in Israel, ready to purchase their tickets for their cultural exchange
visit to the city of Petah Tikva.
admonition for his behavior, Tewfiq (impressive Tony Shalhoub) sober leader of
the group, orders Haled to go to the ticket counter, DO NOT FLIRT, and buy their
bus tickets for Petah Tikva. Unchastened, Haled approaches the pretty ticket
seller and asks in his best, sexy English for tickets to Petah Tikva.
Unfortunately, Egyptians, do not have the letter P in their vocabulary, always
pronounce it as a B when they confront it.
that is how the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra ended up in Bet Hatikva,
which even the natives refer to as the hind end of the world, only in cruder
terms. Much to the goggle eyed amazement of the locals. Anything, even a tiny
breeze, under the desert sun is looked on as a diversion, but Egyptians? In sky
blue uniforms? It’s a civic phenomenon. Which, at the outset, is well and
truly elucidated in composer David Yazbek’s delicious score with “Waiting”, and
“Welcome to Nowhere”, devoutly performed. In fact, every song, every musical
Yazbek gem, is performed to wistful perfection, beguiling perfection, earnest
perfection, heartbreaking perfection, hilarious perfection throughout the
entire bittersweet show by this amazing cast. Dina (Katrina Lenk in a breakout
performance) , the unsurprisingly beautiful proprietor of the tiny local
restaurant, roused out of the daily blahs, negotiates with the reserved Tewfiq,
leader of the Egyptian troop, for their food and their lodging because the next
bus is not until the next day. This is Bet Hatikva, what else?
thus, under the wonderfully intuitive direction of David Cromer, begins their
adventure of a lifetime, the discovery by strangers, recently enemies, of each
other’s common humanity, in a single, enchanted night of simple, not so simple
stories from their lives in the gifted book by Itamar Moses, of them all
struggling with broken English as their common language, and music as their
common longing, of shedding suspicions, shedding caution, opening a little, and
a little more, and a little more. Then, giving. Then, helping.
Simon (so fine Alok Tewari), from the band, is having a rough supper with high
strung new mother Iris (wonderful Kristen Sieh) and her doormat spouse, Sammy (
fine Jonathan Raviv). Her father, Avrum ( outstanding Andrew Polk) is with
them as usual. Again. At least Simon is here. It’s not the same old same old.
It’s something different. And suddenly, Avrum sings a riveting “”The Beat of
Your Heart”, out of his heartbreaking past, not knowing he was going to. They
cajole Simon to play. He plays a haunting melody he has not finished, the
musical theme of his clarinet concerto. It’s been twenty years. Rivulets of
common understanding trickle among them.
Dina’s troublesome love life, such as it is, in this claustrophobic desert
town, doesn‘t let up when she puts on a dress instead of her usual jeans and
tee shirt and takes Tewfiq, quiet, deeply depressed Tewfiq on the town – ha!
–reaching out to this sad, wonderful man. Could he be the one she’s been
searching for? Of course she meets her problematic lover – and his wife. Oh,
the currents that run among them.
tied, agonizingly shy Papi (delightful Etai Benson) hasn’t a clue on how to
pick up a girl, even the one who never smiles. In fact, he knocks her down at
the roller rink, the town’s big entertainment. “Papi Hears the Ocean” is a
hilarious lament he sings exploding with self exasperation. Haled the lady
killer cannot help coming to the rescue. doubly touching, doubly funny. Ah,
the currents, the rivulets.
the telephone guy, (arresting Adam Kantor). Every night, he comes aching,
lovelorn,to the lone phone in town and waits and waits and waits for it to
ring. Such love hunger. Such loneliness. “Answer Me”, he sings. “Answer
morning arrives and the band prepares to depart, all the possibilities of the
night seem gone, everybody back in their familiar grooves. And yet, and yet,
not so. We have joined them in their night of awakening which makes everything
changed. Which makes The Band’s Visit” the outstanding new favorite,
created with wit and wisdom by set designer Scott Pask, by costume designer
Sarah Laux, by lighting designer Tyler Micoleau, and by a company so generous
of heart as well as talent that you want to stay with them, visit them again
and again. Yes, there’s bittersweet joy in that.
leave right away…the Band will gloriously play you out with a glorious mini
At the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, 243 West 47th Street.
Tickets:$49-$175. 212-239-6200. 95 min. Open run.