January 2022

The Band Plays On

After a Yearlong-Plus COVID Pause, Broadway Hit The Band’s Visit Hopes to Strike a Note at The Smith Center

By Aleza Freeman

What do coronavirus-era theatergoers and Bet Hatikva residents have in common?

They’re all experts at waiting.

Theatergoers waited nearly two years for the return of live stage performances, post-COVID, with theaters nationwide—from Broadway to off-off-off-Broadway and beyond—finally welcoming back audiences in September (though a slew of positive COVID-19 tests shut down production on some Broadway shows in late December).

As for residents of the imaginary village of Bet Hatikva? You’ll just have to wait to find out when the 10-time Tony-winning Broadway musical The Band’s Visit arrives at Reynolds Hall in the Smith Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Las Vegas, February 15-20, 2022.

Originally scheduled to come to the Smith Center in March 2020, the celebrated musical is now part of a nationwide tour that includes eight shows a week in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Salt Lake City, Tampa, and Washington, D.C.

“It’s exciting to finally watch these cities around the country embrace it,” said longtime Broadway producer Orin Wolf, noting that the COVID pandemic has been “extraordinarily damaging” to Broadway and touring shows, and The Band’s Visit is no exception.

Wolf (Fiddler on the Roof, Beautiful – The Carole King Musical, Orphans, Once, That Championship Season, A View From the Bridge) called the nearly two-year pandemic pause “a long and arduous journey,” mostly spent trying to find a way to put live shows back in theaters.

“A lot of The Band’s Visit is about isolation and loneliness and feeling stuck; the first song in our show is called ‘Waiting,’” he says. “Coming out of a year and half of quarantining and isolating, I think people can appreciate that feeling of isolation in a way that makes [the show] feel even more universal.”

Janet Dacal and Sasson Gabay

But The Band’s Visit held a special place in Wolf's heart long before the COVID era. It was his idea to adapt it for stage from a 2007 award-winning independent Israeli film of the same name by Israeli filmmaker Eran Kolirin.

The musical opened to critical acclaim off-Broadway in 2016 and on Broadway in 2017, with music and lyrics by David Yazbek and a book by Itamar Moses. It is one of the most Tony Award-winning musicals in history, including a Tony for Best Musical and a Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album.

In this offbeat tale of love, loss, and day-to-day living, an Egyptian police orchestra is stranded for the night in a remote Israeli village, the fictional Bet Hatikva. With nowhere else to go, the foreign musicians stay and are welcomed in for the night by the small, sleepy town.

The characters are from disparate cultural groups and speak different first languages, Arabic and Hebrew, communicating through a shared second language, English. The short time they spend getting to know one another erases any barriers (predisposed, political, or otherwise) between them.

Complex characters, relatable storylines, and seductive Klezmer-inspired Mediterranean music performed live on stage, add to the show’s allure, making for a performance that is humorous, human, and as Wolf puts it, contemplative.

“You don’t typically think about Broadway musicals being contemplative or quiet, but that’s what we are here, a contemplative and quiet show,” he says. “When you watch the characters struggle to finding the right words, I believe, as an audience, you begin to pay attention to words, and in a way, words have more meaning because they’re more carefully selected.”

It’s “the antithesis of Twitter, where everyone is just shouting all the time… and words are so overused that they have lost their meaning and their power,” says Wolf, calling the show his respite. “It’s impossible for art not to be political because we’re political beings and we’re creating expressions of ourselves; it’s inherent. That said, The Band’s Visit is ultimately a piece about humanity and about behavior and it really is, in many ways, devoid of all talks of conflict and politics. It’s just about how one group of strangers takes in another when in need.”

His perspective echoes that of the show’s director, David Cromer, who told him that “really this is a show about that common decency that, in private, we all have.”

Wolf adds: “We may have grandiose political ideas about who we are, about this country and that country, but at the end of the day, if you’re sitting in your home and somebody comes up to your door in need of something, I’d like to think that most people, that first impulse is ‘How can I help?’ Maybe that’s a naïve and optimistic look at where we are [in the world], but that is the story of The Band’s Visit.”

Wolf is hopeful that the show’s universal message of acceptance, award-winning score, and talented cast (including Israeli actor Sasson Gabay, who starred in the original film and the Broadway production) will strike the right chord with its diverse audiences across the country, just as it did on Broadway.

“We are now embarking on this great national tour and we have to reach audiences across so many different social circles, religious circles, cultural circles, socio-economic circles, racial circles,” says Wolf. “It’s our job to create something universal. It’s our job to find the essence of what makes any specific situation feel deeper, feel more like it’s about the human experience and ultimately touch on the things that remind everyone in the audience how were all so much more alike than not.”

He is already looking forward to bringing the show to the Smith Center as part of its Broadway Las Vegas lineup, which includes My Fair Lady in January, Tootsie in May and The Play that Goes Wrong in June.

“I love the venue and I think Vegas audiences are terrific; it’s going to be exciting to be there and I can’t wait,” he says, adding, “I love the idea that Broadway promoters are…presenting the best of Broadway and I think it’s great for the people in Vegas to be able to expand their understanding of what makes a musical.”

Broadway smash hit The Band’s Visit runs Tuesday, Feb. 15 – Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, at The Smith Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets start at $30.

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