It’s 1996 in the small town of Bet Hatikva, Israel and the Alexandria Ceremonial Orchestra has just arrived from Egypt and is asking for directions to the new Arab Cultural Center where they are to give a concert. One problem, there is no Arab Cultural Center in Bet Hatikva. In fact, there isn’t much of anything of note in this city. By way of a language barrier and miscommunication, the musicians landed in this town which sounds, especially to a foreigner, extremely similar to the town where they are expected, Petah Tikva. Unfortunately for them, there are no buses until the morning and so begins their long evening spent dependant on the kindness of strangers.
The first stranger to show them kindness is the local café owner, Dina, who invites the musicians to eat with her and arranges for them to stay with her and some of her friends. As they go off and encounter these townfolk, we discover people living their lives of quiet desperation from a recent widower to a struggling young couple with a colicky baby, to a young man waiting by a payphone (remember, it’s 1996!) for his long distance girlfriend to call, and a man who is desperate to connect with women but is painfully awkward around them. The scenes reveal how people can be changed by one, brief encounter, and it can be breathtaking when it happens.
The first section of the show may seem slow at first, but it establishes the tone and pace of the town, where indeed, nothing much happens. What we discover, one scene at a time, are small moments of strangers meeting, eating together, playing music together, and sharing their stories until suddenly something transcendent has taken place. Connection. It is an intimate, sweet show, at once exquisite and shattering in it’s simplicity.
Janet Dacal, in a sultry, riveting performance as Dina, hints at the depth of her longing in the breakout song “Omar Sharif” and goes even deeper in the ravishing heartache of “Something Different”. She evokes a desire to love and be loved, perhaps by this unexpected stranger. That being Tewfiq, the still and steady bandleader, played with dignity and grace by Sasson Gabay. Interestingly, Gabay originated the role in the Israeli film that inspired the musical. In Tewfiq’s case, still waters do run deep and there is a profound sadness to his steady demeanor. Joe Joseph is a standout as the smooth talking Haled and reveals a beautiful voice in the melodic “Haled’s Song About Love”. Joshua Grosso as Telephone Guy has a nice moment in the lovely song “Answer Me”. It’s a deeply rich ensemble of actors and the music is a jaunty fusion of Arab and Israeli sounds, vibrantly embodied by the musician/actors on stage. The audience is swept into this gathering and when the band plays a virtuoso performance at the curtain call, everyone wanted to stay at the party.
As they tell us of the encounter at the top of the show, “Once not long ago a group of musicians came to Israel from Egypt. You probably didn’t hear about it. It wasn’t very important.” But how important these moments can be to those who live them.
THE BAND’S VISIT plays through December 19. Tickets start at $30, and are available for purchase online at www.BroadwayInHollywood.com or www.Ticketmaster.com. Tickets may also be purchased by phone at 800-982-2782 or at the Dolby Theatre Box office located at 6801 Hollywood Boulevard. For added convenience, tickets may also be purchased at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre box office located at 6233 Hollywood Boulevard. THE BAND’S VISIT is recommended for ages 12 and up. Performance run time is 1 hour and 40 minutes with no intermission. Please find the latest Covid-19 policy updates at www.BroadwayInHollywood.com/SafeAndClean.