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The Band’s Visit


                  By Eugene Paul


Shining new star Katrina Lenk and shining stellar Tony Shalhoub head a brilliant cast in a brilliant, loving new show.



There 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.


As 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.


And 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?


And 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.


Shy 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.



Beautiful 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.



Tongue 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.


And 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 Me.”


When 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.


(don’t leave right away…the Band will gloriously play you out with a glorious mini concert)


The Band’s Visit. At   the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, 243 West 47th Street.  Tickets:$49-$175. 212-239-6200. 95 min. Open run.