“Once, not long ago, a group of musicians came to Israel from Egypt.” So begins The Band’s Visit, the David Yazbek/Itamar Moses-devised tale about the denizens of a sleepy Israeli town, and the staunch Egyptian police band who walks into their world when a mix-up at the border prevents them from catching the right bus to their concert. While the remaining lines assert, “You probably didn’t hear about it. It wasn’t that important,” we’re sure glad we did hear about it as the intimate musical, with its all-too-prevalent themes of love, unity, and everlasting connection, has captured hearts, shaken up emotions, and invigorated audiences all across the city since it debuted on Broadway in November 2017, following a critically acclaimed Off-Broadway run last Spring.
Now, still going strong on the Main Stem, this inevitable Tony magnet gives us reason to rejoice anew, as the luscious melodies and profound, poetic lyrics of Yazbek’s sweeping score are now preserved for eternity on an original cast album off the Ghostlight Records label, due out for official release on February 23rd.
In honor of the album’s drop date, we took a step back and examined the themes of a piece as a whole, picked out a few songs that we felt were most prominent, and wrote up an analysis and commentary on the reason(s) we think they’re important. Check out our top five Band’s Visit picks from this fabulous score... then book your tickets so that you can head to Bet Hatikvah (“with a B”) and visit the band yourself!!
"Waiting" — Our introduction to the denizens of the deserted, desolate Bet Hatikvah. Phrases such as “we’re experts at waiting” suggest they’ve been living in their drab, dreary routines for some time, while lines like “sometimes it feels like we’re moving in a circle....with the same scenery going by,” coupled with the sad and somber delivery of the chorus’ “ahhhh,” suggest a tired desperation — an urgency, if you will, to get out of their rut. Having them all sing this “ahhh” together emphasizes the communal feeling of despair and disgust at their current situation.
It’s Dina’s verse that offers a clue as to their relief: “There’s two kinds of waiting / there’s the kind where you’re expecting something / new or even strange / but this kind of waiting / you keep looking out into the distance / even though you know the view is never gonna change.”
Like a lightbulb, this line triggers the action of the rest of the show, foreshadowing the change that’s about to befall this sleepy little town. Continually stuck in the second type of waiting, they’re going to be shaken up in a way they couldn’t have even imagined. They won’t be “waiting” much longer.
All things considered, too, it’s the opening number of the show, and thus, our first real listen — minus the Overture — to the music within the context of the show. It sets the tone for what’s to come musically, its unique sound, but rich and full like a true Broadway orchestra, but kept simple and intimate with its authentic Middle Eastern timbre, reflecting the time and place of the piece. It’s, again, setting us up for this journey. And oh, what a journey it will be.
"Omar Sharif" - As Dina sings to Tewfiq, her window into the Arabic world as a girl was through movies and radio, and she became particularly captivated by the Egyptian actor of this song’s title. She revels in her childhood memories and bathes in her attraction for this man.
The lyrics are especially significant, however, because she eventually becomes just as mesmerized by Tewfiq, who, like the dashing movie star, hails from Egypt and has “floated in on a jasmine wind,” landing right in her lap, just as she fantasized Omar Sharif would. Tewfiq appears, in his character, to be just as “dark and thrilling, strange and sweet” like the fantasy of her childhood. Dina’s hooked, and, as we know, spends the rest of her time with him trying to bottle that vision… to find her solution… to terminate her endless “waiting.”
As a performer, the phenomenal Katrina Lenk oozes sexy sultriness with every word, in perfect voice both on stage and within this recording. The audience can’t help but become captivated by her. And as Lenk entrances the audience, Dina entrances Tewfiq (who, in turn, entrances Dina). It’s a three-way-match made in heaven… and we can’t help but be compelled to want to see it through.
"Haled’s Song of Love" - Also yearning for a connection is Papi, the young Israeli teen, who complains in the previous song that he has trouble communicating with pretty women.
Knowing that (and more), we couldn’t help but include it in our list. For one, it’s a departure from the show’s traditional Middle Eastern feel — its sole jazz/bluesy number, in the style of Chet Baker, naturally.
Second, it’s interesting, and speaks to the complexity and layers of the song and the sophistication with which Yazbek writes, to consider that although this song is, in the moment, sung to unite Papi and his roller derby darling, it can easily be used to describe Tewfiq and Dina, who are, in this same moment, strolling through the streets, getting to know each other a little bit more intimately. “The pull, the pull, invisible but really real” applies to them just as much as Papi and his flame — they’re not exactly first loves, per se, but establishing a connection, as Dina attempts to experience something more and end her endless “waiting” spell.
Third, it’s the first instance of one of the band members positively impacting an inhabitant’s life, inciting change, and starting the ball rolling for a handful of his colleagues. It’s the first spark of the influence this group will have on these down-and-out people. With his fears conquered, Papi’s no longer waiting. He’s over the hump. He did it.
And lastly, of course, Ari’el Stachel’s silky smooth croon of the number is enough to make you melt in your seat. A winner if ever there was one!!
"Something Different" - Dina’s second attempt to establish a connection with Tewfiq, this time having actually acknowledged her infatuation with the man: “Is this my sheik? Is this my Omar Sharif?”
She’s now revitalized, having entered a new phase of waiting, “the kind where you’re expecting something / new or even strange.” She advances onto Tewfiq, herself captivated by his Arabic prayer. What’s interesting is that, translated, his song says: “Drink deeply of the dark… of the loneliness… of the joy.” So, while she sings of a possible partnership, he’s deep in embracing his loneliness — she just doesn’t know he is, because of the language barrier.
Still, the soothing hum of his prayer mixed with her dulcet tones on the melody toward the end of the number simply make for the stuff of legend.
But at the end of the day, she’s knocking on a closed door. Tewfiq has shut himself away from love, perhaps forever, as a result of tragically losing his son to suicide and his wife thereafter. And that’s probably why, Dina realizes and declares: “Maybe I’m the one who’s fishing.”
And as a side note, to tie it all together, she ends up throwing herself at Haled, the Chet Baker-obsessed who embraces love in all its forms — to the point where he successfully unites another couple through his serenade about love. It was time for love to succeed for him to succeed for himself.
"Answer Me" - This. Final. Number. Hauntingly beautiful melodies aside (Adam Kantor OMG!), this song truly bleeds the themes of love and connection. Throughout, you can feel the desperation for reviving a lost connection, aided by Yazbek’s stunningly visceral poetic language: “my ears are thirsty for your voice.”
Its main lyric — “Will you answer me?” — is also a point of interest. It’s as if to say, despite this band stumbling in and essentially overhauling their lives and relationships, these folks are still searching for an answer, a way out, an end to their loneliness. At their core, they’re, unfortunately, still waiting.
This is certainly true of Dina, in terms of what she wants from Tewfiq. As we’ve explained, while various members of the band do change the townspeople’s lives for the better — Camal unites Itzik and his wife. Haled unites Papi and his love. But Tewfiq does not reciprocate with Dina, therefore leaving her unchanged… lonely… waiting. The band’s visit for her wasn’t transformative… she needs someone (maybe it’s Tewfiq?) to “answer me.” That’s, on one level, what this song touches upon.
On another, lighter note, however, as it continues, we do see Itzik and his wife begin to take the first steps toward reconciliation. We know Papi has conquered his fears and been united with his crush. And, in the middle of the song, after months of radio silence, Telephone Guy’s girlfriend finally calls him back.
That drab, dreary “ahhhh” of the chorus in the first number is no longer — they now sing together in perfect, melodic harmony. Which is all to say, speaking to the greater themes of the piece, that maybe there is hope. All will be reconciled, forgiven, mended, healed. There will be an answer eventually... you just have to wait for the band to visit.
The Band’s Visit: Original Broadway Cast Recording, off the Ghostlight Records label, is now available on all music platforms; music and lyrics by David Yazbek. For more information, visit http://www.ghostlightrecords.com/the-bands-visit.html or http://thebandsvisitmusical.com.