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THE BANDS VISIT by David Yazbek and Itamar Moses, based on the film by Eran Kolirin (Mirvish). At the Ed.
THE BANDS VISIT by David Yazbek and Itamar Moses, based on the film by Eran Kolirin (Mirvish). At the Ed Mirvish Theatre (244 Victoria). Runs to October 20. $49-$175. mirvish.com. Rating: NNNN
Loneliness, unfulfilled lives and existential angst arent usually fodder for Broadway musicals. But the exquisite Tony Award-winning The Bands Visit exudes a moody, Chekhovian glow that is heart-rending.
Based on the 2007 movie, it tells the story of an Egyptian band that, invited by the Arab cultural centre in Israels Petah Tikva, mistakenly ends up in the similar-sounding Beit Hatikva, a tiny village in the middle of the Negev Desert.
Theres no hotel, and the bus doesnt come back until the next morning, so gruff, restless cafe owner Dina (Chilina Kennedy) and her two bored restaurant workers, Papi (Adam Gabay) and Itzik (Pomme Koch), offer the formally dressed musicians some food and a place to stay.
What happens over that night spoken mostly in broken English isnt very eventful, but it forms the absorbing narrative of the show.
The spirited Dina and the bands upright, proud conductor, Tewfiq (Sasson Gabay), go out for a modest dinner, where they discuss everything from Dinas memories of Egyptian music and movies as a child to the demise of their respective marriages. The socially awkward Papi goes on a double date at a roller skating rink, and the romantic, Chet Baker-obsessed musician Haled (Joe Joseph) tags along to give him advice. And the underachieving Itzik invites musician Simon (James Rana) for dinner at his home, where his dissatisfied wife Iris (Kendal Hartse), his newborn child and father-in-law are waiting.
Meanwhile in the shows most absurd subplot, a man identified only as Telephone Guy (Mike Cefalo) spends hours by the towns public phone, waiting for his girlfriend to call.
Composer/lyricist David Yazbek and book writer Itamar Moses infuse the show with warmth and humanity. The music emerges so simply and naturally from situations a lullaby to a baby, a bittersweet memory recalled at a park that the show feels at times like a play with music. And the presence of the bands ensemble members means melodies can waft in from stairwells and open windows.
Director David Cromer, aided by Scott Pasks modest, moveable set and Tyler Micoleaus carefully calibrated lighting, gives us fascinating glimpses into these ordinary peoples lives. And the results are luminous.
The scenes with Itziks family are almost unbearable in their intensity so much is suggested with so little while Gabays Papi provides much-needed comic relief.
But its the odd couple pairing of Dina and Tewfiq thats at the centre of the story, and the actors bring the characters to life confidently. Tewfiqs dignity and buried pain is evident in Gabays posture and gravelly voice. Kennedys frustration and loneliness, meanwhile, come across not only in her impulsive outbursts but also in the way she slices watermelon or pours out cups of coffee. (If youve seen her Carole King in Beautiful, this character is a complete 180.)
While the show, like the film, isnt overtly political, its message of two peoples connecting over their love of music registers with heartbreaking clarity.
This is encapsulated in one four-word exchange near the end between Simon and Itziks father-in-law Avrum (David Studwell). Its a quiet moment, but, like much of the show, its unforgettable.