4-star 'The Band's Visit' all about the details

  • Israeli cafe owner Dina (Chilina Kennedy) recounts to Egyptian band leader Tewfiq (Sasson Gabay) her childhood spent watching Egyptian television and listening to Egyptian music in the musical "The Band's Visit" running through Sept. 15.

    Israeli cafe owner Dina (Chilina Kennedy) recounts to Egyptian band leader Tewfiq (Sasson Gabay) her childhood spent watching Egyptian television and listening to Egyptian music in the musical "The Band's Visit" running through Sept. 15. Courtesy of Matthew Murphy

  • The residents of a remote Israeli town welcome members of an Egyptian police band on their way to a concert in another city in "The Band's Visit" directed by Tony Award-winning Skokie native David Cromer.

    The residents of a remote Israeli town welcome members of an Egyptian police band on their way to a concert in another city in "The Band's Visit" directed by Tony Award-winning Skokie native David Cromer. Courtesy of Matthew Murphy

  • Joe Joseph plays Haled, whose bus station mistake sent his fellow musicians to the wrong Israeli city in "The Bands Visit," running through Sept. 15 at Chicago's Cadillac Palace Theatre.

    Joe Joseph plays Haled, whose bus station mistake sent his fellow musicians to the wrong Israeli city in "The Bands Visit," running through Sept. 15 at Chicago's Cadillac Palace Theatre. Courtesy of Matthew Murphy

 
 
Updated 9/6/2019 6:31 AM

"The Band's Visit" -- ★ ★ ★ ★

When it comes to "The Band's Visit," theatergoers who typically bolt during the curtain call might want to reconsider their exit strategy.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

An uncommonly lovely show with a soulful book by Itamar Moses that is richly imbued by composer/lyricist David Yazbek with Middle Eastern rhythms and colors, "The Band's Visit" has an electrifying coda that's worth waiting a few extra minutes to exit the parking garage.

That unanticipated ending is yet another reminder of what one of the characters expresses earlier: "Nothing is as beautiful as something you don't expect."

An Egyptian police band scheduled to play at an Arab cultural center winds up in the wrong Israeli desert town in "The Band's Visit."
An Egyptian police band scheduled to play at an Arab cultural center winds up in the wrong Israeli desert town in "The Band's Visit." - Courtesy of Matthew Murphy

Comprised of beautiful moments rooted in everyday events, the quietly captivating, gently humorous "The Band's Visit" confirms as much. Credit the perceptive direction of Skokie native David Cromer, whose delicate touch is evident in small, telling details. Late in the show, Sasson Gabay's wary band leader inches his fingers closer to the hand of a world-weary cafe owner played by Chilina Kennedy, then pulls them away. Small but significant, it's the kind of Cromer detail that makes "The Band's Visit" so very satisfying.

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Adapted from the 2007 film, the musical doesn't have much of a plot. Egyptian musicians in Israel to play at the opening of an Arab cultural center mistakenly take the wrong bus. Instead of heading to the cosmopolitan city Petah Tikva, the musicians -- led by Tewfiq (Gabay, reprising his film role) -- wind up in the fictional backwater of Bet Hatikva whose residents, led by Kennedy's Dina, take them in overnight.

A young man (Mike Cefalo) awaits a call from his long-distance girlfriend in the Tony Award-winning musical "The Band's Visit" making its first national tour.
A young man (Mike Cefalo) awaits a call from his long-distance girlfriend in the Tony Award-winning musical "The Band's Visit" making its first national tour. - Courtesy of Matthew Murphy

"Tikva" is the Hebrew word for "hope," and the town's name serves as a not-so-subtle reminder of how important that emotion is.

The musicians and their hosts communicate (haltingly) in English. But they commune through music. Melancholy, minor-key melodies dominate Yazbek's score which incorporates snippets of George Gershwin and Richard Rodgers, West Coast jazz ("Haled's Song About Love") that tips its hat to Chet Baker and a symphonic poem ("Papi Hears the Ocean") so vivid you can almost hear waves slapping against the shore.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 
Band clarinetist Simon (James Rana), right, plays his unfinished concerto for his Israeli hosts Itzik (Pomme Koch), second from right, his wife (Kendal Hartse) and her father (David Studwell) in the national touring production of the Tony Award-winning "The Band's Visit."
Band clarinetist Simon (James Rana), right, plays his unfinished concerto for his Israeli hosts Itzik (Pomme Koch), second from right, his wife (Kendal Hartse) and her father (David Studwell) in the national touring production of the Tony Award-winning "The Band's Visit." - Courtesy of Matthew Murphy

Ultimately, it's music that connects the strangers, all of them decent people who regret pursuits they abandoned and yearn for something new. Yet there's no sign of self-pity in these characters, played with candor by an immensely talented cast. Gabay and Kennedy in particular bring a kind of gravitas to their deeply felt, elegantly understated performances. Also deserving mention are Mike Cefalo's ever-hopeful Telephone Guy, James Rana's aspiring composer Simon and Pomme Koch's easygoing Itzik whose boyishness no longer charms his wife (fine work by Kendal Hartse).

Neither the residents nor the band have perfect lives. But they nurture that which is essential: Hope.

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Location: Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St., Chicago (800) 775-2000 or broadwayinchicago.com

Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday through Sept. 15. Also 7:30 p.m. Sept. 15.

Running time: About 100 minutes; no intermission

Tickets: $39-$106

Parking: Paid lots nearby

Rating: For teens and older; includes mature subject matter and adult language

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