top of page

The Band's Visit at the Orpheum

Two years ago, my best friend, and fellow musical theater lover, Annie and I made a pact: we would cough up the money to see The Book of Mormon together if we agreed not to buy each other gifts for Christmas or our birthdays that year. At the time, she was a college student, and I was an Americorps volunteer. So, you know, neither of us were really swimming in extra spending money. But we both love the concept and the soundtrack of The Book of Mormon so much that we couldn’t stand the thought of letting the national tour come and go without seeing it. We called it Chrisbirthmasday. To be honest, the justification that this would be the equivalent of all the presents we would have given each other throughout the year seemed a little bit weak at the time since I’m certain I spent more on my ticket than I would have on all of her gifts combined. But looking back, I think we both got way more out of it than we would have if we’d just given each other stuff. Another book, picture frame, sweater, etc. couldn’t have facilitated half the thrill we got out of watching the hysterical and beloved show together from our nosebleed seats. It was SO worth it.

So we did it again! This year, Chrisbirthmasday took place on Friday, December 13. We got dinner at Hai Hai (which I Hai-ly recommend) and headed over to the Orpheum to see ten-time Tony Award winning musical, The Band’s Visit.

The Band’s Visit, based on the 2007 Israeli film of the same name, premiered in 2016 and took its rightful place on Broadway the following year. It kicked ass and took names at the Tony Awards in 2018, winning with the “Big Six”: Best Musical, Best Book, Best Score, Best Actor in a Musical (Tony Shalhoub), Best Actress in a Musical (Katrina Lenk), and Best Direction of a Musical. It also won a Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album in 2019. Nbd. Written by David Yazbek and Itamar Moses, The Band’s Visit is about the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra, who are travelling to Petah Tikva, Israel in 1996 to play at the Arab Cultural Center. The opening scene shows the band, clad in crisp, light blue uniforms, standing at the bus station in Tel Aviv where they are waiting for a representative to pick them up. When no one arrives, they decide to take the bus instead. A miscommunication with the woman selling bus tickets lands them in the tiny desert town of Bet Hatikva. Stranded and confused, with no bus coming through again until the morning, the people of Bet Hatikva open their homes to the band for the evening.

If you know anything about the rocky relationship between Egypt and Israel, you’d probably expect The Band’s Visit to be shrouded in politics and cultural tension. But you would be mistaken. Despite 25 of years of war between the two countries, followed by years of tension that would result in violent attacks at the border in 2011 and 2012, The Band’s Visit characters never once refer to the nations’ political unrest. Instead, they connect on deeply personal levels, finding commonalities in love, family, dreams, and forgiveness. This is not a fast-moving, action-packed show; instead, it is an intimate look into what connects us all as humans.

The music is stunning, and at times the blocking and choreography took my breath away. Bet Hatikva café owner Dina (Chilina Kennedy) is sassy and jaded, but when sings, she transforms into an elegant, hopeful, romantic, and vulnerable woman who still believes in herself and in humanity. I’ve been a fan of the song “Omar Sharif” for quite some time, but I was particularly blown away by Kennedy’s rendition of “Something Different,” during which she floats across the stage, mimicking Colonel Tefwiq (James Rana) as he shows her how he conducts the band. The number gave me chills and solidified The Band’s Visit as one of the best shows I’ve seen in 2019.

Without spoiling anything, I will say that the ending left me wanting more, but I think that was sort of the point. The band was only in town for roughly 12 hours, and real life doesn’t give us neat plot lines tied with a bow. But it does give us the opportunity to reach across the aisle and meet people different than ourselves. It gives us meaningful connections and reminds us of how beautiful humans can be when we open ourselves up. The Band’s Visit is so incredibly topical, and could be easily applied to the United States present day. The show begins and ends with the line, “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.” And it is just that, the unimportance, the lack of any intense plot-line, grand dance numbers, or traditional Broadway theatrics of any kind, that makes this show so special. It relies on the strong center of person to person connection. It survives on its own, stripped down and just people and music and how the two fit together. This is the type of art we desperately need at this time in the world, and anyone who sees The Band’s Visit will be better for it.


bottom of page