Broadway in Cincinnati’s “The Band’s Visit” Definitely Worth the Trip

“The Band’s Visit” is a subtle, slice-of-life musical that appreciates the ordinary and makes for a thought-provoking evening of theater.

Review by Nathan Top

What are the important moments of our lives? What is worth remembering? Beauty and meaning is uncovered and highlighted from small, seemingly ordinary moments in Broadway in Cincinnati’s “The Band’s Visit” playing now at the Aronoff.

Based on the 2007 Israeli film of the same name, “The Band’s Visit” tells the story of the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra who, on their journey to play in the city of Petah Tikvah, accidentally purchase tickets to the similarly pronounced Bet Hativka, a small desert town filled with bored yet vibrant residents. Upon arrival to Bet Hativka, a magnetic cafe owner Dina informs them of their mistake and offers to feed and house the band until a new bus arrives the next day. Following this wisp of an inciting incident, the band inserts itself into the life of the mundane town, with the chemistry of the characters synthesizing vibrant little moments that make up the duration of the show. With music and lyrics by David Yazbek and book by Itamar Moses, “The Band’s Visit” swept the 2018 Tonys, winning Best Book, Best Score, and Best Musical.

Director David Cromer purposefully underplays the subtle conflict of the show, allowing the actors to vibrate and, on occasion, reach a boiling point. Sarah Laux’s costume designs, consisting of pastel suits and dry earthtones, manage to pop against Scott Pask’s toneless desert scene design. What the set lacks in color it makes up for by adding so much motion to the stage and the plot of the show. Built on a turntable, the town acts as another character of the show, pushing and pulling the characters towards one another. 

There is a purposeful lack of spectacle in this production. Even the musical numbers are underplayed, with minimal choreography and hauntingly beautiful melodies. The score is comprised of Israeli-influenced chamber folk music, of which a significant portion is performed by the “band” cast on stage. While at times it is easy to forget that the show is actually a musical, what the score lacks in large, dynamic numbers it more than makes up for in quality of melodies and orchestration accompanying glowing vocal numbers.

Janet Dacal is spellbinding as the Cafe owner Dina, carrying much of the dramatic pulse of the show. Her chemistry with Tewfiq, the band’s mysterious and introverted leader, is tangible and compelling, making every shared scene filled with exquisite tension and nuance. Ali Louis Bourzgui plays an empathetic wingman Haled to Coby Getzug as Papi, who share one of my favorite numbers “Haled’s Song About Love.” Itzik, played by Clay Singer, shows impressive vocal and dramatic chops, especially in his final scene performing “Itzik’s Lullaby.” 

Told over an intermission-less ninety minutes, “The Band’s Visit” is a subtle, slice-of-life musical that appreciates the ordinary and makes for a thought-provoking evening of theater. “The Band’s Visit” is playing now through July 24th. Tickets can be purchased here.

Nathan Top is a Cincinnati-based playwright and musician. Nathan works as a freelance trumpeter and pianist, performing in big bands, pit orchestras, and pop groups throughout the area.

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