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THEATER The Band's Visit
by Jonathan Abarbanel, Windy City Times
2019-09-09

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Playwright: Itamar Moses ( book ), David Yazbek ( music & lyrics )

At: Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph Street. Tickets: 800-775-2000; www.BroadwayInChicago.com; $39-$106. Runs through: Sept. 15

To Orin West, Lead Producer:

The Band's Visit is a wonderful and singular show. I know you're deeply sincere about it because I was there when you discussed it with members of the American Theatre Critics Association. Anyone who's not enchanted by The Band's Visit must be suffering a chemical imbalance … or can't understand the words at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, where most viewers are too far from the stage to see the actors' expressions.

Wouldn't it be very much better for The Band's Visit to play six months in Chicago in a small theater rather than two weeks in a 2400 seat house? On Broadway it played a house with 1,058 seats and no orchestra pit, so the audience was much closer to the stage. That's what Chicago deserves. The Cadillac Palace was just fine for The Producers, The Lion King and The Color Purple, but The Band's Visit isn't that kind of show. You know that better than anyone, because you had the integrity to allow it to be intimate, small, quiet and subtle … qualities lost in the comparative vastness of the Cadillac Palace. Think about this, Mr. West, if The Band's Visit returns to Chicago.

That being said, this soft spoken but potent show is based on an Israeli movie ( Roger Ebert named it one of 2008's best films ), about a small Egyptian police orchestra playing a concert in Israel which arrives at the wrong town by mistake. Forced to overnight in a dusty desert village—there's no hotel and no bus out until the next day—the Egyptians and their reluctant hosts somehow break barriers of nationality, religion and suspicion as one on one human connections are made.

David Yazbek's lovely musical score is influenced by American jazz and Arabic classical music, with oud and darbouka featured in the eight piece band. Although only 95 minutes long and quite episodic in structure, The Band's Visit manages to profoundly explore universal feelings of isolation, longing and desire. It cleverly parallels two widowers—one Israeli and one Egyptian—and two young men in pursuit of romance, one experienced and one not, and mixes in a tender not-quite-love story between local café owner Dina ( Chilina Kennedy ) and band leader Col. Tewfiq ( Sasson Gabay ), the two central roles.

There's no chorus or big production number and no dazzle except the musicianship, but it matters not. Directed with controlled fervor by former Chicagoan David Cromer, with Patrick McCollum's modest but appropriate choreography, The Band's Visit starts slowly and takes half its brief length to draw you in, but will charm and move you when it does … if you can understand what people are saying and singing.


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