Review: Musical ‘The Band’s Visit’ is art with heart

Musical is as good as people have been saying online
A scene from "The Band's Visit."
A scene from "The Band's Visit."

SCHENECTADY — Café owner Dina says, “Nothing’s as surprising as the taste of something strange.”

And for the inhabitants of Bet Hativka, encountering something strange is devoutly to be wished. Their little town in Israel provides nothing new; everyone is waiting, though for what is not always clear.

“Waiting” is the first song in this remarkable Tony Award winner “The Band’s Visit,” a quiet musical — no, not a contradiction in terms — that stops your racing 21st-century pulse and simply asks you to look, listen, breathe, and think. That’s all. And for your undivided attention over 100, uninterrupted (deo gratias) minutes, you will experience the whole range of human emotion. Really.

“Something strange” cuts two ways, actually, because to this Jewish community comes a band of Egyptian musicians who are supposed to be giving a concert somewhere else. A mispronunciation of the name of that other town — Petah Tikva–has landed them here; instead of being welcomed by a representative from the Egyptian consulate, they are attended to by an assortment of Israeli citizens who are both hospitable and curious.

Thus, the show is about 24 hours in the lives of ordinary people whose governments are often at war but who, through a shared love of music and a desire to tell their life stories, find human connection. The show opens at Dina’s (Bligh Voth) cafe. It’s here that the band’s conductor, Tewfiq (Loren Lester), and his men arrive and quickly learn about the miscommunication. Disappointed and confused, they settle in for a meal.

Because there are no more buses until the next morning, the strangers are invited to spend the night in various homes, where they learn, among other things, about the marital struggles between Iris (Hannah Shankman) and Itzik (Pomme Koch); the sad situation of Telephone Guy (Mike Cefalo); and the romantic frustrations of Papi (Adam Gabay), which the visiting Haled (Joe Joseph) helps him overcome.

Dina and Tewfiq also open up to each other about their pasts. Will this “taste of something strange” lead to a future for them?

The musical is an adaptation, by David Yazbek (music & lyrics) and Itamar Moses (book), of an Israeil film from 2007. David Cromer won a 2017 Tony for his direction, and here’s why: As much happens in the silences as in the conversations; the line readings have weight; and the economy of gestures gives meaning to it all. The cast (trained by music director/conductor Rick Bertone) could not be bettered in conveying the humor and the pathos. And the band itself: oh, sublime.

Gabay and Joseph are delightful in their back-to-back numbers, “Papi Hears the Ocean” and “Haled’s Song About Love.” Voth’s delivery of the poignant “Omar Sharif” is spot-on. And Cefalo’s “Answer Me,” whose title refers to his specific situation but also to the desires of everyone else, is a touching summation of the journey the audience has just been on.

There are four performances at Proctors left. “The Band’s Visit”— the material and the production–is as good as people have been saying on-line. If you’re interested in a musical that is not all bells and whistles but is all art and heart, make a reservation.

NOTE: We saw the show at Thursday’s matinee, so you might not see some of the performers I’ve just mentioned.

‘The Band’s Visit’

WHERE: Proctors, 432 State St.

WHEN: Through Jan. 5

HOW MUCH: $90.75-$25.75

MORE INFO: 518.346.6204, or

Categories: Entertainment, Life and Arts

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