“The Band’s Visit” takes place in the desert and, like a mirage, it shimmers. But better. Because this hushed, heart-melting musical is real — and truly magical.
Seen last year at the Atlantic Theater, the intimate show by Itamar Moses and David Yazbek leaps to the Ethel Barrymore Theatre with the cast nearly intact. That includes the invaluable Tony Shalhoub as Tewfiq, a serious and buttoned-up Egyptian police band leader, and the breathtaking Katrina Lenk as Dina, a sensuous, seen-it-all Israeli cafe owner.
They meet due to misconnections, the show’s main theme. An airport bus station mixup strands Tewfiq and seven fellow musicians from Alexandria in Dina’s snoozy town in the Negev Desert.
How locals and visitors cool their heels together overnight offers a sliver of storyline, drawn from a much-admired 2007 Israeli film. But plot isn’t the point. The show is a quiet musical meditation that casts a spell through its songs, alluring ambience and excellent actors.
(Haled) Ari’el Stachel, right, is a helpful fifth wheel during a date between Julia (Rachel Prather) and Papi (Etai Benson).
Among them are Ari’el Stachel as Haled, a dreamy Egyptian trumpeter with a way with the ladies, and Alok Tewari as Simon, the band’s clarinetist and, in a pinch, baby whisperer. That skill comes in handy for Itzik (John Cariani) and Iris (Kristen Sieh), an Israeli couple with a bumpy marriage and bawling infant. Etai Benson and Adam Kantor play two of the spouses’ neighbors, each with girlfriend issues.
Characters come into focus as director David Cromer’s seamless staging revolves from depot to cafe to apartment to club to a would-be park. Scott Pask’s evocative spinning set, Sarah Laux’s powder blue Sgt. Pepper-y band uniforms, Tyler Micoleau’s moody lighting and Kai Harada’s clear-as-a-bell sound design help each moment shine.
Moses (“The Fortress of Solitude”) and Yazbek (“The Full Monty,” “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown”) have created something rare, grown-up and special. The book packs warmth, wit and economy. Irresistible songs blend strains of Arabic and Israeli melodies and flecks of jazz. Onstage musicians showcase the music to the max.
From left, Kristen Sieh, John Cariani, Alok Tewari, Andrew Polk, George Abud. Like “Come From Away,” “The Band’s Visit” is about people connecting.
Dina’s wistful “Omar Sharif” is so vivid it’s a feast for the senses. (Did anyone else smell jasmine? Taste spices?) “Haled’s Song About Love” brings sexy back. “Answer Me” underlines the show’s themes of connection and longing and builds to something overwhelmingly joyous.
One resists gushing about a musical that works so wonderfully because it never overstates. It doesn’t belt. It whispers. It doesn’t grab. It reaches. Look at the Playbill image of Dina with an arm outstretched. What are you waiting for? Take her hand — and pay her and this beautiful show a “Visit.”