The Company of "The Band's Visit" North American Tour. Photo by Matthew Murphy.
The Durham Performing Arts Center (DPAC) is back to live shows, thanks to a renewed commitment to safety and the long-held desire to bring unique performances to the Triangle. Its latest show, The Band’s Visit, is an award-winning production with music and lyrics by David Yazbek and a book by Itamar Moses. Based on the screenplay by Eran Kolirin and directed by David Cromer, it’s a tale about happy accidents and the power of human connections.
The story, set in the 90s in Israel, starts off with a befuddled band. They’re the title band of the show, more formally known as the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra, and they’re waiting to be picked up in Tel Aviv. Unfortunately, when no one shows, a misunderstanding finds them landing in small-town Bet Hatikva instead of the similarly-pronounced Petah Tikvah. Instantly personable and funny from the start, the band members let audiences know that fun is in store.
The same can be said for the first big musical number, “Waiting,” which aptly and hilariously depicts small town life. Set in such a way so as to literally showcase the residents going around in circles, it also serves as a clever reminder of the planet that connects us all. It’s also accurate foreshadowing for the spirited, sharp choreography that pervades throughout.
Audiences are swiftly introduced to rough-around-the-edges Dina, boldly portrayed by Janet Dacal. She owns the small café where the band winds up and invites them to stay the night. With band members separating to stay with different families in town, viewers enjoy a series of vignettes showcasing their interactions and the impacts they have.
Sasson Gabay is sad, sweet, and ultimately incredibly sympathetic as Colonel Tewfiq, the band’s leader, while womanizing Haled (Joe Joseph) adds humor to the show. In fact, “The Band’s Visit” strikes a near perfect tonal balance between the bittersweet and the joyful, rendering it a nice reflection of life itself. And, at its heart, this is a show about life. It’s about forgiveness, hope, empathy, and all the things that happen in a place where nothing happens.
Haunting images, like the “Telephone Guy” (Joshua Grosso), who waits by the phone endlessly for his love to call, add a literary quality, while flashing disco lights and silly-but-amazing songs, particularly “Papi Hears the Ocean,” are evocative of youth and the inevitable progression of life.
Akin to the most heartfelt short story meeting a Seinfeld episode, it’s a wonderfully different and intriguing show, especially when contrasted with the splashier musicals that have become so popular as of late. For a production that invites viewers to think, instead of relaxing their brains for a while, it’s the perfect choice, all without being too heavy for the current times. It’s a story about how a simple shift in perspective can change everything, a message that should resonate well with pandemic-era viewers
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