When the Israeli film The Band’s Visit premiered at international film festivals in 2007, it was an instant hit, receiving notable awards including the Un Certain Regard - Jury Coup de Coeur at Cannes. What moved critics and audiences was director Eran Kolirin’s quiet, understated depiction of Israeli and Egyptian characters finding shared comfort in loneliness.
The film spans one day in the lives of musicians from the Egyptian police force who travel to an Arab Cultural Center in Israel to perform but confuse their destination city with a similarly named desert town. The nervous and disoriented band members approach a modest café and meet its owner, Dina, who offers to house them for the night, displaying kindness where they expected apathy.
The musical adaptation of The Band’s Visit makes its world premiere Off-Broadway at Atlantic Theatre Company. Opening December 8, the show reframes the narrative through song, externalizing the isolation and longing that each character embodies, and showcasing a blend of languages and musical styles. Like the film, it is a show embracing cultural differences.
Composer/lyricist David Yazbek and book writer Itamar Moses both come to this project with a trove of personal knowledge of each of those cultures. Yazbek has a Lebanese father, several Arabic-speaking relatives and memories of time spent in Lebanon and Egypt; Moses has two Israeli parents, several Hebrew-speaking relatives and memories of time spent in Israel. “If I didn’t have direct connection to the region, I might have felt less authority,” says Moses. “I didn’t worry about if I was allowed to do this adaptation.”
For Yazbek, creating an authentic score had its own process, specifically the inclusion of Middle Eastern instruments and Arabic inflections.
“The stuff that I really love about that music—Arabic classical music—there’s a taste to it, almost like a blend of spices,” he says. “I hear the drum grooves and those instruments, the doumbek, and the riq. I was excited to be able to write for it, knowing that I’d bring my style to that kind of music.”
As much as The Band’s Visit digs into daily experiences of Israelis and Egyptians, you won’t hear a single political conversation in the show. “One of our favorite things is that it’s political in a gentle way,” says Moses. “In music, if you play a chord, but you leave out the fifth, the audience hears it anyway. This is like the fifth of the show.”
Read the full article on PLAYBILL
photo credit: Ahron R. Foster