4-star 'The Band's Visit' all about the details
"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."
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.
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.
"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.
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.
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
Parking: Paid lots nearby
Rating: For teens and older; includes mature subject matter and adult language