NYTG at the Broadway Opening of The Band's Visit

New York Theatre Guide attends Opening Night for the Broadway transfer of David Yazbek & Itamar Moses' hit new musical The Band's Visit at the Barrymore Theatre.

Katrina Lenk & Tony Shalhoub

The band has visited and it's safe to say that it has made a huge impact on the 2017-2018 Broadway season. In fact, at this early stage, I would even go so far as to say it may well be a frontrunner for next year's Awards Season. But before we get ahead of ourselves, let's first celebrate the Opening of The Band's Visit on the Great White Way. Last night the Barrymore Theatre opened its doors to a host of special guests, as well as friends and family members of the cast and crew for yet another inclusive, diverse and truly unique production. The Band's Visit made seismic waves downtown during its world premiere at the Atlantic Theater Company in fall 2016, earning a plethora of accolades, including Drama Desk, Lucille Lortel, Obie, Outer Critics Circle and New York Drama Critics Circle Awards. You name it, they won it! So, surely a move uptown was always going to be on the cards? We caught up with the show's stars - 3-time Tony Award nominee and 3-time Emmy Award winner Tony Shalhoub and Katrina Lenk (who was honored with a Theatre World Award for her portrayal of Dina in the Off-Broadway premiere) - as well as director David Cromer at the official After Party at Copacabana to get their thoughts.

"Well, we always had the hope, but I wouldn’t call it a hunch," Mr. Shalhoub tells me. "I’ve been in this business long enough to know not to bet on anything. But we all trusted in the director and the producer because Orin Wolf - who is the commercial producer – he was always a part of it, even downtown. So his vision was always to develop it and nurture it and sweeten it and then move it up. We just didn’t have any guarantee of that. We all silently hoped, but didn’t wish too hard."

"I don’t think I’ve ever let myself have gut feelings about those kinds of things," Ms. Lenk added. "You never know where anything is going to go. Sometimes the best work never makes it past a workshop. I think we were all wonderfully surprised and thrilled by the response that people were giving."

Ms. Lenk and Mr. Shalhoub's modesty is certainly endearing in the face of a new show that is unleashing a great deal of a hype within the Broadway community, but, on paper, this musical could initially have been regarded as somewhat of a gamble. Unlike other stage adaptations this season that are based on gargantuan box office hits such as FrozenMean Girls or Harry PotterThe Band's Visit is based on a little know 2007 Israeli film, written and directed by Eran Kolirin. Indeed, at the start of the production, the audience is introduced to the story with a projection that reads: "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 from that self-depecrating opener on, the gamble has paid off.

"I think that people don’t often write a musical and hope that it’s going to NOT play on Broadway," director David Cromer jests with me. "But they were also committed to how delicate and quiet and non-traditional or non-current this show is. I always wondered whether it would [transfer], but I was impressed by the gamble we took to do the show how we did it. That was to not hurry or fill it with a lot of extra stuff that it didn’t require. I hoped it would [transfer], but sometimes I did think that we were never going to get away with this."

And get away with it, they have! The reviews are in and just like the Off-Broadway notices, they are unanimously glowing. Read our full review.

Composer/Lyricist David Yazbek, Director David Cromer & Writer Itamar Moses 

The musical depicts the coming together of two different groups of people - in this case, Israelis and Egyptians - through an extraordinary moment. At the airport in Israel, an Egyptian Police Band are mistakenly sent on a bus to the small town of Bet Hatikva (in the middle of nowhere) instead of the similarly pronounced city of Petah Tikva, where they are scheduled to perform at the Arab Cultural Center the next day. After this moment, however, and after they are stranded and taken in by the locals, everything that happens is seemingly full of ordinary moments. It seems that nothing happens at all and yet, everything in ordinary life that could happen, does happen and the cast of characters are moved in such emotional ways through their encounters with 'the other'.

"Yes! I’ve heard that before," Mr. Shalhoub agrees. "When you try to describe the story, there aren’t really any huge events. It’s more like a slice-of-life kinda thing. But there are seismic changes internally to all of these characters. All of these characters, when we meet them, are kind of stuck or in some sort of state of paralysis, you might say, in their lives or emotional lives or in their situation. Yet somehow, as they reach out to ‘the other’, all of these changes occur. By the time we get to the end of the story, I think the audience feels that the characters have gone through a massive change."

Personally, I loved the Middle Eastern influences in the score provided by David Yazbek. The musical numbers seem to creep up on you so gently that at times you may have to remind yourself that this is a musical. And that's the beauty of it's uniqueness. The talented bunch of actor/musicians are often on stage accompanying scene changes as well as being part of the scenes themselves, and so a special fluidity is created that you don't always see on Broadway. If you took those seducing Middle Eastern timbres away though, I also got the notion that this story could play out in any isolated town anywhere in the world.

"I think that the themes of loneliness, a little bit of isolation, a little bit of regret about some of the choices one has made, are universal," Mr, Cromer explains. "I think that - without being irresponsible – we present possibly the idea that the hope that some of the circumstances we are in that cause our loneliness and isolation, solving them might be within our control. It is a hard-earned and honest kind of hope. I was in a position a couple of years ago where I thought that nothing else interesting was going to happen to me. That’s what I thought. And then I found out through a series of events and gestures in my life that something interesting might still happen. I think that’s one of the things the musical touches on."

It is the universal aspect of this tiny "unimportant" story that is going to speak volumes to theatregoers this season as perhaps the most "important" new musical in town. The Band's Visit is unquestionably worth a visit!

Stars of The Band's Visit - Katrina Lenk & Tony Shalhoub

Bernadette Peters

Alan Menken and Guest

Celia Kennan-Bolger & Cherry Jones

Jessie Mueller and Guest

Kelli O'Hara & Greg Naughton

Josh Groban

(All Opening Night Photos by Tom Millward)

The Band's Visit Tickets are now available for performances through to April 29, 2018.