Home Musical play ‘The Band’s Visit’ performs at the Smith Center

‘The Band’s Visit’ performs at the Smith Center

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The goal of each actor is to understand the character he is playing. But from his very first introduction to Tewfiq, his character in ‘The Band’s Visit’, Sasson Gabay instinctively understood the leader of the Egyptian police ceremonial band who, along with his colleagues, makes an unscheduled nighttime visit to a small town. Israeli.

The award-winning Israeli actor originated the role of Tewfiq in the non-musical film version of ‘The Band’s Visit,’ which served as the basis for a subsequent musical adaptation that won 10 Tony Awards, including the 2018 award for Best Musical , as well as a Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album.

This musical retelling of the story of finding a human connection in unexpected circumstances arrives at the Smith Center February 15-20. Tickets start at $30 (thesmithcenter.com).

The story revolves around a troop of policemen who are members of an orchestra who, because of a verbal mispronunciation, arrive unexpectedly in a small isolated town in the desert of Israel. Temporarily blocked, they are invited to stay with the townspeople.

“They accept this kind offer,” Gabay says, and the story explores “the different interactions between people.”

At its heart, “The Band’s Visit” is about human connection. “Everyone learns something,” says Gabay, as gang members and townspeople “open up to each other.

“That’s the theme of the film, the connection between (the cafe owner) played by Janet Dacal, who is wonderful, and Tewfiq, played by me, and all the other characters. Everyone meets locals and learns from each other and learn something about themselves.

“Sometimes when you meet a stranger you are more open to them than the people you see every day. You don’t have to hide things or worry about how people will look at you.

Gabay originated the role of Tewfiq in the 2007 non-musical film version of “The Band’s Visit”. In 2018, after the adaptation of the film into a musical, he found the character on Broadway. He is now reprising the role in the production’s touring company. Gabay says he understood Tewfiq immediately after being asked to read a description of him and a synopsis of the film’s script.

“I said, ‘I don’t mind auditioning, but I know this man. I feel it,” says Gabay. “I know him. I’m very connected to him. Tewfiq has “a certain contradiction. He’s rigid and formal (on the outside) but inside he’s an artist. orchestra. I like this contradiction between its facade that it shows on the outside and what it has on the inside”, says Gabay.

“Also, he faces a tragedy in the past with his family, so he protects himself with formality. I like the contradiction between its formality, or its supposed formality, and the delicate soul that hides inside.

Gabay remembers shooting the film in 2007. It was “this low-budget film that we shot in 21 days in a very remote town” near Tel Aviv, he says. “We all understood that we had something really special on our hands, a very modest, discreet, very simple film and a plot that penetrates the heart of the public.”

The film won several awards. Gabay recalls that when producer Orin Wolf asked him what he thought about adapting it into a musical, “it seemed like a very strange idea to me, to take a very simple story and make it into a musical comedy”.

But, he says, “I think they’ve done such a good job of turning this low-key, low-key film into a sweet, low-key musical that people appreciate and feel touched.”

The show premiered off-Broadway in 2016 with Tony Shalhoub as Tewfiq and was a hit on Broadway.

“Then, after about six months, the producer asked me if I wanted to replace Tony Shalhoub, who had to leave. I had to finish my own theatrical engagements in Tel Aviv and moved to New York for a year with my family, and that was really one of the great high points of my career. Every actor dreams of performing on Broadway, let alone an Israeli actor. I had a wonderful year in New York.

Transitioning from film to theater and from drama to musical hasn’t been difficult for Gabay, whose credits include work in a variety of projects ranging from comedy to drama and theater to film and television.

“All my life I’ve basically been a stage actor,” he says. “I’ve been lucky enough to work all the time doing things that I love, love and enjoy. At the same time, I’ve worked in a lot of TV and film. I love both media a lot.

“I need a live connection with the audience, the process (that) you go through on a two hour journey physically, with your body and emotionally, and having an audience sitting there and connected to you. On the other hand, I like cinema and television. You can do more delicate things with more emotion. Fortunately, I did both.

Gabay is thrilled to reunite with a favorite character in a play that “has turned out to be one of the major pillars of my career. I find myself for the third year, intermittently, to play this part, this role, and it is very gratifying.

“First of all, it’s my way of making a living. But to see new audiences appreciate this modest film, this very modest play (without) car accidents, without girls (or) this dazzling musical, I appreciate the role because it is different and something unique.

“This musical is very entertaining, very fun,” says Gabay. David Yazbek, who wrote the music and lyrics, “combined (Arabic) music with American jazz. It’s a truly wonderful blend. We speak Hebrew, English and Arabic. So it’s not a typical Broadway musical.

Gabay hopes audiences take away from “The Band’s Visit” the play’s simple yet powerful message of shared humanity “and our need for each other. We are all alike and need each other in many ways.

Contact John Przybys at reviewjournal.com. or 702-383-0280

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