Friday, October 13, 2017

Thoughts on The Band's Visit

I am extremely dumb and didn't see The Band's Visit when it played Off-Broadway last year.  I guess I can't see everything.  I should've seen it, though; I'm a fan of the writing team, I'm a fan of the cast, and a fan of new musicals.  I was so grateful when it was announced that the show would be moving to Broadway - everyone I know who had seen it told me how great it was.  Thankfully, I didn't have to miss out on it forever.  I wasn't sure, though, that I would get to see it because there haven't been any discounts.  But because I bought a coupon subscription to the Atlantic (where The Band's Visit played Off-Broadway), I was offered a discount code to see a preview.  Last night was the happy night.

The show doesn't open for three weeks, so I will only offer a few thoughts, since I'm sure they're still making changes.  Here are my few thoughts:  you should go see The Band's Visit.  Thank you, see you next time.

Seriously, I found the show to be so achingly lovely, I was rather taken aback.  I enjoy David Yazbek's work, but I think of him as rather a bold songwriter.  The Band's Visit is gentle, searing, delicate, though his comic songs were, as usual, uproarious.  The love ballad in the roller rink - hysterical.  I was writing an email to someone else, trying to describe the show, and another word that kept coming to me was 'unexpected.'  I don't know the film on which the musical is based, so the plot was completely unknown to me and I loved it that way.  Nothing happened the way I expected to, to my great joy and surprise.  

Nothing happened the way the characters expected, either, I'm thinking.  If I were to describe the plot, not much really happens.  An Egyptian band, set to play in a town in Israel, arrives in the wrong town and has to spend the night there.  See, not much, right?  But, like in life, even when nothing really is happening, everything is happening.  Situations are changing, choices are magnified, eyes are opened, wounds are healed.  Life.  It's magical, even when it's not.

photo credit: Ahron Foster
The cast is fantastic, from top to bottom.  Katrina Lenk, who knocked me out in Indecent, knocked me out even more in The Band's Visit.  Tony Shalhoub is a longtime favorite of mine (have you seen him in Galaxy Quest?  comedy genius) and he was superb in this.  John Cariani was a delight, as was everyone else in the cast, frankly.  The design is gorgeous (as in gorgeously right), the libretto is smart and spare, funny and sad, and then there are the songs.  Oh, the songs.  They're really wonderful, with tinges of Arabic and klezmer, but still theater music.  The pairing is rather brilliant.  Many actors double as musicians and when this 'orchestra' plays, it's fantastic.  The show is played without intermission and, at one point, I thought 'I think we're approaching the end'.  And we were, with the most unexpected character singing the most gloriously transcendent song.  My eyes welled up with the gorgeousness of it.  

Have I said too much?  I always hate to say too much, in case you decide to see the show, based on what I've written, and things have changed during previews.  But I think it's safe to say that this beautiful show will remain beautiful.  It's a small, intimate show, though, so I'm unsure how it will do business-wise.  I hope it does well and can run for a long time, because in these times of strife, seeing this ragtag group of people find a way to connect was a wonderful thing.

Seat neighbor-wise, the gent on my left was not having it.  I think he was looking for something a little brassier, he didn't quite seem as entranced as the rest of us.  At one point, he sighed so loudly, I thought he was getting ready to sing something from another show.  Then there was the family in the row in front of me and the parents kept (distractingly) looking down the row at the kids.  I wanted to say to them, your kids are behaving and paying attention, you should too!  And someone in the front row (I was in the front mezzanine) looked at their phone about every fifteen minutes.  That light that just drags your eyes to it, ugh.  I hate it.  Good thing I loved the show so much and didn't lose control at anyone.

look at this line!
Oh, and here is a completely shallow remark:  I saw in the playbill that someone I worked with in summer stock over 30 years ago was in the show.  Hey, cool!  I haven't seen him since!  He was quite the dish back then, very dreamy, very impressed with his own looks, I wondered how he looks now!  Well.  Color me surprised.  Let me just say that I felt quite young and beautiful after I saw him.  See, I told you it was shallow.  But I don't often feel young and beautiful anymore, so that was a treat and I'm going to forgive myself.  Oh, and another random remark: either get to the theater very early or at the very last minute.  They were taking forever to check people's bags - the line stretched from mid-47th Street almost all the way back to Broadway.  And they were only seating through one door.  I don't know if there are extra precautions because of the show's setting (it's the only thing I can come up with for the cockamamie front of house stuff), but it took a long time to get inside and the show started really late.  Plus, we were all taking up so much room on the sidewalk that a guy got grazed by a car trying to hurry around the line in the street - he fell onto his head.  It was scary, there was blood.  I hope that guy is ok.

Morals of this story are: be prepared to stand in line, don't rush into the street, be prepared for me to gloat if I look younger than you if we worked together 30 years ago, and go go go see The Band's Visit.  It's a real find.

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