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Divinely Inspired Band's Visit

How to conduct one's life is what the Dresser walked away with July 11, 2019, after experiencing the exuberant and melancholy The Band's Visit, a no-intermission musical running 1-3/4 hours based on the 2007 Israeli film by the same name.

David Yazbek's music and lyrics had the appreciative audience at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC, in its thrall. No wonder since this musical which opened on Broadway in October 2016 won ten Tonys, including Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical (Itamar Moses), Best Original Score (David Yazbek), and Best Direction of a Musical (David Cromer who is also responsible for this production).

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The story begins in Tel Aviv with a mistake made when the members of the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra are stood up at a bus station by their host in Israel. The band has traveled from Egypt to perform at an Arabic cultural center in Petah Tikvah. The band's leader Colonel Tewfiq Zakaria (Sasson Gabay, star of the film version of The Band's Visit) tells his talkative underling Haled (Joe Joseph) to purchase tickets, which he does. However, his accented English is misunderstood, and the band arrives in the middle-of-nowhere town of Bet Hatikva. It's a hilarious scene where we meet the café proprietor Dina (Chilina Kennedy) who practically spits trying to explain the difference between the sound ba as in Bet Hatikva versus pa as in Petah Tikvah. One gathers that nothing happens in this town in the first and second songs "Waiting" and "Welcome to Nowhere." Worse, the band cannot catch another bus until the next day and there is no hotel.
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As luck has it, Dina and her mom used to watch Omar Sharif films and listen to Arabic classical music. But before Tewfiq learns about that, Dina has issued notice that she and her friends will put up the band in their homes, something that shocks both the Colonel and Dina's friends. With some coaxing both sides agree in which case, we see more of the town's people and their intimate lives. Dina is all about overcoming her failed marriage and having some fun. During the course of the evening, we meet a family where a new mother is having postpartum depression who says all she ever does is take care of invalids 24/7 (the crying baby, her husband who can't get a job, and her father, who is mourning the death of his wife). We encounter a young man who won't leave the town's only telephone because he expects his sweetheart to call. We also see Dina get into a screaming tiff with a married man with whom she has had an affair.

Sometimes the music is infectious Middle Eastern rhythms and staccato like "The Beat of Your Heart" but there are goose-bump-raising ballads like the telephone guy's (Mike Cefalo) "Answer Me" and the jazz torch songs like "Haled's Song about Love."
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The sets cleverly rotate as people and band members walk around Bet Hatikva. The band members actually play their instruments and can be seen artistically arranged in doorways and on stairs as music emanates or bursts from them and the singers. Surprisingly, things happen in this town, like the blind roller-skating date arranged for the Israeli youth Papi (Adam Gabay, son of Sasson Gabay) in which he confesses in his song "Pappi Hears the Ocean" to Haled that he doesn't know how to behave with women. Haled, on the other hand, uses the pickup line "have you ever heard of Chet Baker" and then Haled starts singing "My Funny Valentine."

Conducting is an important aspect of this story, which focuses on the relationship between the conductor of the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra and the town's colorful café owner Dina. Also, there is a member of the band who keeps asking the Colonel for an opportunity to conduct the band. Subtler are the moments when Dina raises her arms and seems to conduct the people around her. Her movements might be akin to conducting an orchestra or enticing the men around her, as a belly dancer might, to pay total attention to her.

If, Dear Reader, you need an antidote to the immigration horrors the people of the United States are currently witnessing under its current administration, this musical with outstanding performers is what you should see. Washington, DC, is the first stop through August 4, 2019, on its multi-city North American tour.

In Mary Morris' poem "A Love Supreme," we find the penultimate connection music has to love in the blue throat of joy. Blue as in the blue note that takes the listener by surprise and supplies a minor note where major was expected. Certainly nothing much is expected when an Egyptian band shows up in a boring desert town and creates an oasis of flowering love.

&emsp --John Coltrane

No coincidence that in Renaissance paintings
the angels play horns.

They had that right. It's about the resurrection
one comes into after so much suffering--

digging in, spinning a hymn without words,
the evolution of his song--

the Angelus, Acknowledgment (I have
wronged), how love turns itself on

finding Resolution in the greater Master--
the one who saves you (from yourself),

Pursuance of this crepuscular heaven,
passages in Psalms--notes

translated through a horn--
a deep flower, blue throat of joy.

by Mary Morris
from Enter Water, Swimmer

Photo Credits: Matthew Murphy



This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on July 12, 2019 4:03 PM.

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