“The Band’s Visit”: An unpretentious musical with a powerful message

The company of “The Band’s Visit” North American tour. (Evan Zimmerman, MurphyMade)

The show uses music to transform simple interactions into profound experiences.

You might expect a show that won 10 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, to be flashier, brimming with fancy dance numbers, elaborate sets and extravagant costumes. Instead, The group visitwho is currently playing at the Fisher Theater, has an understated beauty that makes her message all the more poignant.

Based on a 2007 Israeli film of the same name, the musical is directed by David Cromer, with music and lyrics by David Yazbek and a book by Itamar Moses. In 90 minutes without intermission, it depicts a group’s unexpected visit to a remote town in Israel.

The ironic summary projected on the opening curtain sets the tone:

“Not so long ago, a group of musicians came from Egypt to Israel. You probably haven’t heard of it. It wasn’t very important.

While this terse description elicits a chuckle from the audience, it omits the essential message of this unassuming spectacle: seemingly mundane events are as important as those that make headlines.

The show opens as the musicians of the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra, led by their conductor Tewfiq (Sasson Gabay in a revival of his film role), arrive in the small desert town of Bet Hatikvah. Due to a mix of languages, they missed the bus to their intended destination, the similar-sounding Petah Tikva, where they were to perform at the Arab Cultural Center. The locals provide questionable guidance in “Welcome to Nowhere”, where they describe Bet Hatikva as “mostly dark and beige and blah, blah, blah…”

Because there are no hotels and no buses until morning, Dina (Janet Dacal), the cynical owner of the local cafe, offers to put up Tewfiq and flirtatious trumpeter Haled (from Southfield, Joe Joseph ). After some discussion, she persuades her fellow citizens to host the rest of these curious visitors dressed in powder blue military uniforms.

Janet Dacal as Dina and Sasson Gabay as Tewfiq
Janet Dacal as Dina and Sasson Gabay as Tewfiq Evan Zimmerman, MurphyMade

It doesn’t take long before the magic begins to unfold through a series of encounters between musicians and villagers. Before the night is over, meaningful connections are made and hearts are touched indelibly.

The show uses music to transform simple interactions into profound experiences. There’s no better example than Dina’s moving rendition of the ballad “Omar Sharif,” where she reminisces about beloved movies and music from her childhood as Tewfiq listens intently.

In another part of town, band member Simon (James Rana) plays his unfinished clarinet concerto to soothe a crying baby. The music casts a spell over the baby and her mother (Kendal Hartse), which releases a well of long-buried feelings that were eroding her relationship with her husband (Clay Singer).

“Haled’s Song About Love” brings comic relief as the high-spirited musician encourages shy Grandpa (Coby Getzug) to approach a girl at the local ice rink.

Scott Pask’s rotating set allows for seamless scene changes and exemplifies the theme that life is a continuous and often repetitive cycle interrupted by the occasional miracle.

The score is an eclectic mix of klezmer, classical Arabic and a touch of Broadway pop. The talented musicians on stage make every number shine, and their performance after the curtain call is an unexpected treat.

On press night, a sound problem made it difficult to hear and understand some dialogue. Otherwise, it’s a wonderful show that’s more vital now than when it opened on Broadway in 2017. In a world of growing division, aggression, intolerance and fear, The group visit reminds us that kindness, tolerance and meaningful connections are found in unexpected places. We just have to be careful.

Broadway In Detroit no longer requires guests to show proof of Covid-19 vaccinations or wear masks inside the theater. However, these rules may change based on current public health protocols.

The group visit through Sunday, May 1 at the Fisher Theater, 3011 W. Grand Blvd. in Detroit. Ticket prices start at $35. For tickets or more information, call 313-872-1000 or visit broadwayindetroit.com.