THE BAND'S VISIT, a new musical - New York City Article
The Band’s Visit, A New Musical
Music & Lyrics by David Yazbeck
Ethel Barrymore Theatre, 243 W 47th St
Original Cast Album on Ghostlight Records.
“Once, not long ago, a group of musicians came to Israel from Egypt. You probably didn't hear about it. It wasn't very important.” That’s the epigram that begins this show, and also the plot. Well no, there isn’t a lot of dramatic incident conveyed in that brief summary of the narrative, but this is a show about what happens under the surface; not so much about what happens but what all the characters all feeling about it. The Egyptian Police Band arrives in Israel for a concert, but somehow find themselves in the wrong place, and wind up having spend the night in what Americans would call a little jerkwater town where absolutely nothing happens. But as the townies interact with the visitors, the hopes and dreams of both factions gradually bubble to the surface, and that provides composer-lyricist with the raw material and inspiration to create a brilliant score. Just as Harnick & Bock composed what sounds like traditional Russian-Yiddish songs for Fiddler on the Roof and Kander & Ebb crafted unmistakably Greek Rebetiko music for Zorba!, Mr. Yazbeck has devised a score that could easily pass for authentic contemporary Egyptian or Israeli music yet which still works perfectly as a show music, furthering a narrative and delineating the inner lives of the characters. Yet there’s more involved than a mix of middle eastern music and show tune ideals; one character’s repeated spoken references are a clue to the inclusion of jazz ingredients in the recipe (“Haled's Song About Love” contains one of the more satisfying saxophone solos I’ve heard in a Broadway show). Then there’s “The Beat of Your Heart,” which describes the story of a romance from the point of view of a club date musician, who recalls the details of what they were playing (“we were finishing ‘The Girl From Ipanema’ going into “Summertime’...”) no less than the details of how she looked and what she was wearing. “Answer Me” gradually expands from a single figure waiting for the phone to ring into a plaintive anthem that expresses the longings of everyone in the narrative - and possibly everywhere else as well. Throughout, Mr. Yazbeck weaves eastern style polyrhythms and nutso time signatures into a rich and complex contrapuntal musical texture. Both the score and the show are remarkable in that they touch on the big issues, ie, showing Arabs and Jews relating to each other without fuss, without losing sight of what is at heart a warmly intimate production.
Author: Will Friedwald
Will Friedwald writes about music and popular culture for THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, VANITY FAIR and PLAYBOY magazine and reviews current shows for THE CITIVIEW NEW YORK. He also is the author of nine books, including the award-winning A BIOGRAPHICAL GUIDE TO THE GREAT JAZZ AND POP SINGERS, SINATRA: THE SONG IS YOU, STARDUST MELODIES, TONY BENNETT: THE GOOD LIFE, LOONEY TUNES & MERRIE MELODIES, and JAZZ SINGING. He has written over 600 liner notes for compact discs, received ten Grammy nominations, and appears frequently on television and other documentaries. He is also a consultant and curator for Apple Music.
SINATRA: THE SONG IS YOU - NEW REVISED EDITION (Chicago Review Press, May 2018)