Experience Writers Theatre’s exceptional ‘Band’s Visit’

Uncommonly lovely, exquisitely intimate, “The Band’s Visit” is entirely without pretense.

A chamber musical about music’s capacity to unite and soothe, “The Band’s Visit” — in an enchanting regional premiere at Writers Theatre co-produced with Arkansas’ TheatreSquared — is a modest show whose negligible plot is rooted in linguistic misunderstanding.

Composer/lyricist David Yazbek and playwright Itamar Moses’ gently humorous, quietly compassionate tuner centers on a brief, relatively insignificant encounter between ordinary folks. It’s a beautiful show in a warm, engaging revival from director Zi Alikhan, whose cast of actor/musicians is superb.

“Once, not long ago, a group of musicians came to Israel from Egypt. You probably didn’t hear about it,” says Sophie Madorsky’s world-weary cafe owner Dina. “It wasn’t very important.”

Armand Akbari, left, Adam Qutaishat, Jonathan Shaboo and Rom Barkhordar play Egyptian musicians stranded in a small Israeli town in the exquisite chamber musical “The Band's Visit” through March 20 at Writers Theatre. Courtesy of Michael Brosilow

If not for a mistaken interpretation, Egyptian conductor Tewfiq (Rom Barkhordar) and his Alexandra Ceremonial Police Orchestra musicians would have arrived in the cosmopolitan Israeli city Petah Tikva as intended to play for the opening of an Arab cultural center. Instead, after taking the wrong bus, they end up in the fictional, desert backwater of Bet Hatikva, whose residents spend their time waiting: for something to happen, for something to change.

The locals adopt for the night the stranded musicians. Chet Baker-loving trumpeter and persistent flirt Haled (Armand Akbari, a sweet-voiced charmer) invites himself along on a roller-skating outing with Papi (Sam Linda), a young man nervous around women; the goth girl Julia (Becky Keeshin) who likes him; her friend Anna (Marielle Issa); and Anna’s boyfriend Zelger (Jordan Golding).

Kindly cafe owner Dina (Sophie Madorsky) opens her home to stranded musicians Tewfiq (Rom Barkhordar), center, and Haled (Armand Akbari) in “The Band's Visit” at Writers Theatre.

Camal (Adam Qutaishat) and composer Simon (Jonathan Shaboo) join Itzik (Dave Honigman) and Iris (Dana Saleh Omar), new parents in a troubled marriage, and Iris’ musician father Avrum (Michael Joseph Mitchell), who grieves his recently departed wife.

Meanwhile, over dinner with Tewfiq, Dina recalls century Egyptian singer/actress Uum Kalthoum, a childhood favorite, in the dreamy “Omar Shariff” (Madorsky’s performance is lush and intoxicating). Bonding over music and old movies, their innocent tête-à-tête is interrupted by Dina’s married lover Sammy (Jacob Baim).

While Camal (Adam Qutaishat), left, calls the Egyptian embassy, Telephone Guy (Harper Caruso) awaits a call from his beloved in Writers Theatre's regional premiere of “The Band's Visit.” Courtesy of Michael Brosilow

Leaving the restaurant, they encounter Telephone Guy (a winsome, nicely vulnerable Harper Caruso) who stands at a pay phone, awaiting a call from his beloved. Caruso’s penultimate “Answer Me,” one of the highlights of Yazbek’s elegant score, is an aching expression of longing. Beginning as a solo, it swells to include the entire ensemble, a reflection of the yearning within these characters. Decent folks all, they live with their regrets, wistfully resigned, and without bitterness or self-pity.

In the brief time they spend together, not much changes for the locals and their guests. Why should it? Music doesn’t disappear problems. But when shared with friends (or strangers) it can make them bearable.

• • •

“The Band’s Visit”

4 stars

Location: Writers Theatre, 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe, (847) 242-6000,

Showtimes: 3 and 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Saturday; 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday; 2 and 6 p.m. Sunday through March 24. No matinee March 20

Tickets: $35-$90

Running time: About 95 minutes, no intermission

Parking: Street parking

Rating: For teens and older

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