Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

November 17, 2021

REVIEW: The Bushnell, The Band’s Visit

The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
through November 21, 2021
by Jarice Hanson

The Israeli film, “The Band’s Visit,” was one of the most highly acclaimed films of the 2007 Cannes Film Festival. The story, called “[a] small-scale musical with a big heart” was adapted for the stage and debuted Off Broadway in 2016 and moved to Broadway in 2018, where it won 10 Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Now, after a number of Covid-related delays, the touring company is back on the road, charming audiences with this simple story of hope, longing, and the power of music.

The story is simple. An Egyptian classical band is booked at the Arab Cultural Center in the Israeli city of Petah Tikva, but by mistake, they travel to a town in the desert with a similar name, called Bet Hatikva.Their poor translation skills and the travelers’ innocence results in the members of the band stuck overnight in a town where nothing ever happens, and the boredom and ennui have sent human relationships into a downward spiral. Thanks to Dina, the proprietress of the local café, the seven members of the band are split up, and sent to stay with different local residents. By morning, music touches the lives of everyone, and everyone changes.

Both the film and the play are achingly real, in the sense that we learn and empathize with those who feel free to open up to strangers, rather than to their neighbors and loved ones; and there is an undercurrent of Arab/Israeli issues that focuses on what we have in common, rather than what drives us apart. Music and lyrics are by the wonderful David Yazbek, the musical genius behind soulful comedies like “The Full Monty,” “Tootsie”, and “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.” The multiple award-winning Director is David Cromer, who also won the 2018 Tony for Best Director, who has the confidence and trust in the material to allow this play to slowly build to its inevitable conclusion, which allowed the opening night audience to leap to their feet with a standing ovation.

The singers and musicians all are top-notch, and of the 15 musical numbers, most are solos from the international cast of actors. Janet Dacal, playing Dina, is the catalyst who makes the decisions and sets the action in motion. Sasson Gabay, as Tewfiq, the Band’s maestro, is the noted Israeli actor who originated the role in the film. His quiet dignity and somber physicality epitomizes sadness; but his gentle, dignified portrayal makes it clear why Dina wonders if he could be her “Omar Sharif.” The members of the Band themselves are wildly talented musicians who also have acting chops and clearly defined characters.   

“The Band’s Visit” is what we need after the prolonged pandemic has beaten so many of us down. It is simple, honest, and transformative. On opening night, the sound quality in the auditorium at the Bushnell (often problematic) made it difficult to understand every word spoken by the heavily accented actors, but the message was clear, and “The Band’s Visit” is an encouraging reminder that simplicity can be a good thing, and finding a way to communicate with others, lifts our hearts.    

It should be noted that on Saturday and Sunday, there will be both matinee and evening performances.