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‘The Band’s Visit’ Review: Music Is Love And Hope

The Cast of "The Band's Visit"
The Cast of "The Band's Visit" By Courtesy of T. Charles Erickson
By Cindy Zhang, Crimson Staff Writer

“How does it feel like to do music?” Late at night, standing facing the sea, Twefiq (Brian Thomas Abraham), the conductor of an Egyptian police orchestra, raises his arms to conduct, and Dina (Jennifer Apple), an Israeli café owner, responds by following. They create a melody of their own, together. This breathtaking scene is from the musical “The Band’s Visit.” Running until Dec. 17, The Huntington Theatre and SpeakEasy Stage co-production of the Tony Award-winning musical was inspired by the 2007 Israeli movie about a chance encounter between Egyptian musicians and the people of an Israeli backwater.

The Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra, a band of men in peculiar powder blue uniforms, set out from Egypt to Israel, booked for a prestigious performance in Petah Tikvah. But an unfortunate blunder at the ticket office lands them in Bet Hatikva, a town off the beaten path in the Negev desert.

Three local families volunteer to accommodate the group of musicians, each of which conveys a different power of music, be it love, friendship, or kinship. The use of cutlery as instruments, with the stage embodying the ocean, momentarily makes the characters forget the differences between them. To witness the beauty of hope and new life, it is astonishing to see the differing forms that human love and sorrow can take. As a musician plays a soothing lullaby for a baby, words cannot do justice to the intense feelings evoked in audience members. Language and culture are no obstacles for music to bring people together.

This play is particularly relevant in recent times. In the midst of the pandemic, the world found itself pulled physically apart — and in a political climate that can make it tough to stay positive, “The Band’s Visit” serves as a reminder that music can act as a bridge between people.

Paul Daigneault’s direction, David Yazbek’s composition and lyrics, and Itamar Moses’s book make “The Band’s Visit” a one-of-a-kind musical. Dina recalls her childhood memories of Arab and Egyptian music on the television, and how it created a bridge between her and people she could not meet in person through speakers and screens; then, she and Twefiq join together to revisit the musical tales from the past. They reenact the scene from the film “River of Love” in which a man and a woman fall in love. Even without knowing the culture, anyone can relate to the feeling of being immersed in someone they love.

The story-sharing between Twefiq and Dina is nearly a remedy for the pain they have experienced. The pursuit of love, hope, and solace is enough to bring audiences to tears, but the musical cleverly injects humor into the melancholic tale with witty lines like, “Is he singing about two hearts searching in the dark, or is he just singing about fishing?”

Jennifer Apple’s portrayal of Dina, a powerful female character, is another rarity on stage. Her heartfelt and compelling female vocals animate Dina. With a keen understanding of Dina’s struggles and life choices, Apple’s performance embodies a raw strength, conveying a resolute determination to break free and pursue “Something Different” in life, as the song’s title and lyrics suggest.

In the role of Twefiq, Brian Thomas Abraham delivers just a few impactful lines, and only sings at the request of Dina. His commanding tone and to-the-point statements give him an air of authority. However, deep down, he yearns for intimate connections and the chance to heal from past trauma. Tewfiq carries a weighty burden, while Abraham’s performance is layered with a heavy heart.

“The Band’s Visit” flowers with the grace and joyful insistence of life itself. Music is a major part of the story — its influence on people from different backgrounds and its relevance in a present-day society that, unfortunately, places great emphasis on money and effectiveness. The musical only needs the audience to spend 90 minutes hearing the music in the whispers, murmurs, and silences of human life at its most mundane, to rediscover the beauty, love, and hope in our surroundings.

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