Theater review by Alex Huntsberger
That a musical as quiet, intimate and devastatingly beautiful as The Band’s Visit ever made it to Broadway is something of a feat. That it proved a hit, netting 10 Tony Awards in the process, is a miracle. While the cavernous, ornately decorated Cadillac Palace Theatre is an odd home for the musical’s first visit to Chicago, it also feels fitting. The Band’s Visit is a portrait of lonely souls and the precious few moments they're able to connect. The fact that it feels out of place makes perfect sense.
Based on the 2007 Israeli film of the same name, The Band’s Visit follows the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra as they catch the wrong bus on their way to a gig in Israel and end up stranded overnight in Bet Hatikva, a small Israeli desert town. Forced to wait for a bus the next day, the band members are taken in by hospitable locals. The conductor, Colonel Tewfiq Zakaria (Sasson Gabay, reprising his role from the original film) wanders through the night on a quasi-date with his fiery hostess, Dina (a commanding Chilina Kennedy); a young band member named Haled (Joe Joseph) advises his new friend Papi (Adam Gabay) on matters of romance; and aspiring composer Simon (James Rana) stays up all night talking with young father Itzik (Pomme Koch) and his widower father-in-law (David Studwell).
David Yazbek’s exquisitely tender score, which includes the swooning “Omar Sharif,” is worlds away from the bright, blaring songs he produced for Tootsie. His melancholic tunes have an ideal partner in Itamar Moses’s subtle, fumbling dialogue. Chicago vet David Cromer ties the whole thing together in a production that prizes awkward silences over pithy banter.
The Band’s Visit’s self-effacing charms (its opening super titles announce how unimportant this story is) only accent its well-tuned sense for loneliness and heartache. It’s a small musical about small people made of small gestures that nonetheless add up to something as vast as the desert that surrounds them.
Cadillac Palace Theatre. Music and Lyrics by David Yazbek. Book by Itamar Moses. Directed by David Cromer. With Sasson Gabay, Chilina Kennedy and ensemble cast. Running time: 90 min. No intermission.