Broadway musicals can bring people together. There is something about the way music and theater can speak to people across geographic, religious, and cultural borders. And every once in a while, there is a Broadway musical that connects with audiences on a deeper and more profound level. The Band’s Visit, with a breathtaking score by David Yazbek, is proving to be one of these masterful musicals, transforming audiences with a message of celebrating our differences and recognizing that we gain more from opening doors rather than closing them.
If there is any question about the reverberations The Band’s Visit is having on theatergoers, the proof is in the outpouring of elation on social media. Audience members, some very well known, have not been shy in sharing how deeply personal and meaningful that music has been for them.
— Lin-Manuel Miranda (@Lin_Manuel) October 28, 2017
With a book by Itamar Moses, this is a story of a mix-up that sends a group of Egyptian musicians to a remote Israeli town. The band is supposed to play a concert in Petah Tikva (“With a P”), a bustling metropolis, but end up in the tiny town of Bet Hatikva (“With a B”). When the locals take the musicians in for a night, their lives intertwine in the most unexpected ways. The Band’s Visit is about what happens when two cultures are not only put in a position of experiencing one another, but what happens when they let their guards down long enough to communicate on a personal level. This musical is resonating with people of diverse backgrounds.
Me, trying to explain @TheBandsVisit to my mom: because of a translation issue, this band ended up in a place called Bet Hatikvah.
My Israeli Mother: You mean Petah Tikvah?
Me: that’s it. that’s basically the plot.
— Danielle Breitstein (@smalljewishgirl) January 31, 2018
From the world of late-night comedians Stephen Colbert and Seth Myers, to news anchors Christiane Amanpour and Diane Sawyer, a varied cross section of celebrity America has flocked to see The Band’s Visit and its message of reaching across the aisle.
Just missed an appointment because I was in the middle of @TheBandsVisit cast album and refused to stop it before the end so I hope my priorities are clear
— Ben Platt (@BenSPLATT) December 19, 2017
A parade of Broadway’s finest has been showing up at the theatre to see what The New York Times calls “my favorite musical of the season by far,” including Kevin Kline, Nathan Lane, Sarah Jessica Parker, Bernadette Peters, and Jonathan Groff.
Just came from @TheBandsVisit. What a gem of a show! #KatrinaLenk is gorgeous and stunning, and I got a little starstruck seeing #TonyShalhoub in the flesh. And #AdamKantor is a beast staring at that phone booth. Was teary by the end! Go see this!!! Congratulations!!!
— Lea Salonga (@MsLeaSalonga) February 2, 2018
The Hollywood glitterati have also been spotted at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre to drink in the show, including Meryl Streep, Alfre Woodard, John Stamos, Billy Crystal, Hugh Jackman, Anna Wintour, Ansel Elgort, and Paul Rudd.
— The Band’s Visit (@TheBandsVisit) February 8, 2018
Even the greats of music have spent a night in Bet Hatikva, including Paul McCartney, Jason Mraz, Stephen Sondheim, Michael Stipe, James Taylor, and Andrew Lloyd Weber. Arguably, The Band’s Visit’s most celebrated and prestigious guests were a former first family: Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea Clinton.
These responses are demonstrating how this show is something more than a mere musical. It is a jumping-off point for an exercise in empathy. It makes the case for why our differences can bring us together and how important it is that we try to find that commonality.
An Arab American audience member from New Jersey was happy to see his culture represented. He tweeted:
“Growing up, I never saw my culture properly depicted on stage, TV, or film. When we were depicted, we were often caricatures or the bad guys. Thanks for showing beautifully imperfect & real Middle Easterners in #TheBandsVisit. Our proper representation is long overdue.”
It’s not as far as the journey from Egypt to Israel, but a ride from Albany to New York City is still more than 300 miles round trip. Still, on a chilly February Sunday, the members of a Jewish temple in Albany boarded a bus and came to see The Band’s Visit. It was “the best Broadway show we’ve ever seen,“ one member tweeted later, in between posting photos from two kosher restaurants.
The gentleness, humor, and subtlety of the storytelling is what may be especially resonant in audiences. Broadway musicals are typically big, bold, and brassy, which works for many productions. For The Band’s Visit, audiences are finding its intimacy and subtle humor to be a refreshing difference that sets the show apart from the pack.
Still speechless at the magnificence of the @thebandsvisit on Broadway @atlantictheater So many beautiful performances led by #TonyShalhoub @thekatrinalenk @arielstachel @etaibenson Perfectly directed by @davidmcromer funny, restrained book by #itamarmoses sublime music lyrics by @davidyazbek 35 years of NY theater. One of the most soulful moving and hilarious shows I’ve ever seen.
Clearly, The Band’s Visit has tapped into something sublimely unique. To unite so many different people with a combination of story and music that both entertains and challenges us to find the best in ourselves is an achievement that many musicals aspire to but never quite reach. By telling an honest story, the characters’ motivations, predicaments, and music highlight our basic human need to build bridges and overcome the disconnect that has become our collective default setting. These are the reverberating themes of The Band’s Visit and why so many people have rallied around it.
Pictured above: (l-r) Lin-Manuel Miranda, David Yazbek, Katrina Lenk, Jonathan Groff. Photo by Bruce Glikas.