Dallas- A beautiful intimacy — even in the 2,200-seat Winspear Opera House — patiently and subtly reveals itself in The Band’s Visit, a 2016 off-Broadway hit that landed on Broadway to much acclaim in 2017, now on a national tour stopping in Dallas for a three-week run co-presented by Dallas Summer Musicals and AT&T Performing Arts Center. It’s the first shared production by Dallas' two touring presenters, with all performances at the Winspear; The Band’s Visit would be swallowed up in the 3,400-seat Music Hall at Fair Park.
Lyricist-composer David Yazbek and author Itamar Moses based The Band’s Visit (very faithfully) on Eran Kolirin’s 2007 film of the same name; the unlikely plotline of a small Egyptian orchestra trapped in an isolated Israeli settlement went on to win a record-tying six major Tony Awards, including Best Musical.
The Band’s Visit neatly relies on an old trick of western and sci-fi plots, from The Virginian to Star Trek: the creation of an isolated community in which the arrival of outsiders cracks open the world of existing inhabitants. In this case, the seven-member “Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra” arrives at the bus station in Tel Aviv for a performance at the Arab Cultural Center in the bustling suburb of Peta Tikvah; a member of the orchestra, the young, compulsively flirtatious and perpetually horny Haled (played with disarming naiveté and charm by Joe Joseph), assigned to buy tickets for a transfer to Peta Tikvah (a real place on the map), mistakenly buys tickets for the desert town of Bet Hatikva (a fictional place invented for the movie).
The first musical number, “Waiting,” introduces the residents of Bet Hatikva, conveying that sense of boredom and longing common to all isolated outposts — from Siberia to the American heartland — but with a Middle Eastern flavor that successfully pervades composer Yazbek’s entire score, via traditional harmonic and melodic patterns as well as Arabic percussion and oud. Thus begins a musical and dramatic verismo journey in which very ordinary people demonstrate the magic of their humanity.
The tense heart of the drama emerges from the relationship of café owner Dina, played with fiery angst and sung with a dusky contralto by Janet Dacal, and Tewfiq, the iron-willed autocrat and conductor of the band, played by Iraq-born Israeli Sasson Gabay, who originated the role in the 2007 movie version (Katrina Lenk and Tony Shalhoub originated the roles in the musical; both won Tony Awards). Dina immediately begins to show her generous inclinations by providing the stranded musicians with food and lodging (and forcing two of her employees to likewise help house the band); Tewfiq begins to show cracks in his cold façade when he has to ask for food.
Two band members end up in the home of Itzik, where Itzik (Pomme Koch) and band member Simon (James Rana) proceed to shed revelations and frustrations in the midst of the geo-political (Israeli-Arab) and the personal tensions (Itziz is under-employed and his wife is embittered by the burden of child-rearing and house-keeping).
Haled, meanwhile, ends up as the fifth wheel on a double-date to a disco-skating rink with the Israeli Papi (Adam Gabay); Haled coaches Papi in the ways of love and seduction in the funniest scene of the show, but reveals that his own sexual adventurousness and prolificity is a reaction to his anticipated future arranged marriage.
All the while, Dina has set herself the challenge of seducing Tewfiq; their adventures include her darkly humorous and vicious slicing of a watermelon as well as an angry encounter in a restaurant with her married fuckbuddy. Dina’s pursuit and attempted seduction of Tewfiq takes an unexpected turn in the end, involving Tewfiq’s reconciliation with his past and a little melting of his icy façade. In short, they will keep on being who they are, but with a new understanding of what that means.
Some beautiful songs stand out in Yazbek’s unique and skillfully wrought score, including Dina’s “Omar Sharif,” in which she recalls watching Egyptian movies as a young Israeli girl; Papi’s enunciation of his fear of romance in “Papi Hears the Ocean”; and Itzik’s gently desperate reaffirmation of self in the midst of a disappointing life in “Itzik’s Lullaby.”
Even during the course of all of this, an otherwise unidentified “Telephone Guy” (Mike Cefalo) waits patiently at an outdoor public phone for his girlfriend to call him (as he has apparently done for several weeks), epitomizing the frustrations of the entire cast. But it’s the Telephone Guy’s song, “Answer Me,” that blossoms into a tear-inducing ensemble finale (have a hankie on hand), followed by an upbeat musical epilogue.
Rick Bertone guides the small orchestra (along with onstage instrumentals) neatly through this one-of-a-kind score. Scott Pask’s quasi-realist scenery and Sarah Laux’s everyday working-class costumes handily create the heat and isolation of a modern desert settlement, while director David Cromer and choreographer Patrick McCollum keep the patiently unwinding plot of this one-act piece lively and fascinating. The Band’s Visit won its acclaim by breaking a few rules, and the result is an intriguing and unusually meaningful musical, surely destined to become a classic of the lyric stage.
» The three-week run of The Band’s Visit is divided into two weeks for Dallas Summer Musicals (through Feb. 16; click here for tickets), and one week for AT&T Performing Arts Center (Feb. 18-23; click here for tickets).