“The Band’s Visit” delivers in latest Chicago production

Noah Grabianski, Contributing Writer

Before 2016, David Yazbek was known for his multiple writing nominations after adapting movies such as “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” and “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” into musicals. It wasn’t until he wrote the music and lyrics for the adaption of 2007 Israeli film “The Band’s Visit” that he was recognized at the 2018 Tony Awards, where it won ten awards out of 11 nominations, including Best Musical and Best Original Score.

“The Band’s Visit” revolves around the members of the Ceremonial Alexandrian Police Orchestra. Haled, a clumsy, love-deprived member of the titular Egyptian band accidentally buys bus tickets to the dusty, slow Israeli town of Bet Hatikva instead of their real destination, the culture-rich city of Petah Tikvah. They are forced to wait in Bet Hatikva overnight before getting on a bus the next morning in order to arrive at their concert on time. They pass the night by being taken on the town by local cafe owner Dina and her two employees, Papi and Itzik.

The musical, performed in one act with no intermission, boasts 15 musical numbers, most either by the band or featuring onstage accompaniments. One of the true stars of the show is Dina (played by Chilina Kennedy). Kennedy‘s talents are proven in “Omar Sharif,” where she sings of her memories of watching Egyptian romance movies at home as a child.

However, Kennedy’s performance can get dampened by Sasson Gabay, who plays General Tewfiq, the conductor of the band. Tewfiq is a depressingly serious character, and is portrayed by Gabay very well. However, while Kennedy is equally good at portraying Dina, her character should have been written next to someone with a much brighter personality. Dina prompts Tewfiq to come out of his shell throughout the play, but he doesn’t really crack until she admits her romantic feelings for him. When he does explain his shyness, it brings the innocently fun mood in the room to a somber level. Along with that, the drastic age difference between the two characters make any sort of romance feel just wrong.

In the end, however, it’s the simplicity of the show that makes it so incredible. While other musicals will try to wow you with an over-the-top set design and show-stopping musical numbers, “The Band’s Visit” amazes with the slightest lift of an arm or the twirl of a dress. Some of the most thrilling songs are sung with the characters standing still, or with minimal movement. The conversations, although dry at first sight, are filled with tension and strong wording, leaving viewers on the edge of their seats. The different, Israeli-inspired music is a breath of fresh air from the overly-American tone most musicals receive today.

“The Band’s Visit” has everything. Love, heartbreak, a very well choreographed roller skate dance, a boy waiting for his girlfriend to call him – everything. While the show is no longer in Chicago, the chances are that it will come back soon. And when it does, I definitely encourage seeing it.