THE LAST BAND
November 28, 2017
The story sings inside you weeks after the curtain goes down on the remarkable Broadway musical “The Last Band.” Stranded in a remote Israeli town due to a translation error, the classical Egyptian band’s odyssey begins.
The Egyptian band is led by Tewfiq (Tony Sholub), a buttoned-up, formal man who keeps his emotions and band members in check. Obsessed by Chet Baker, Sholub's outgoing band member Itzik (John Cariani) incessantly asks people if they know the jazz musician, Chet Baker. As if people in the Mideast are familiar with the trumpet guy who eliminated drums from his band and popularized the "cool" jazz sound. Strains of “My Funny Valentine” -- a song Baker made famous with his sad, smoky voice, seeps throughout the production commenting on the interactions…” You make me smile with my heart.”
A casually urbane cafe owner Dina (the charismatic Katrina Lenk), weary of the uneventful town life, parcels out the musicians to families for the night. Initially, when the Arab musicians step into the Israeli households, it reads like the equivalent of Arabs and Israelis being welcomed on either side of a militarized border. But through the universality of shared family problems shaped by overworked, under-paid parents and young folks’ romantic rumbles, everyone merges into a unit of mutual support.
Distracted by the evening’s events, Tewfiq finally agrees to join Dina for a drink in the town center. There is no doubt about the fondness vibrating between the two, and his small indications of desire read like explosions of lust. Attracted to Tewfiq’s honorable demeanor, Dina basks in Tewfiq’s muted emotions while simultaneously infuriating her married lover who watches from the bar.
The delicately directed production by David Cromer illuminates the humanity binding the characters that form the cast of superb actors and musicians. His vision is fused through the gorgeous Eastern flavored music and lyrics by David Yazbek; simple, open sets by Scott Pask and Tyler Micloeau’s lighting.
It’s rare to come away from a production and feel as if every sentence, every song, every gesture and every syllable was essential to the play, but that’s what happened the night I saw “The Band’s Visit.”
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis