By: Amanda Prahl
Bet Hatikvah, the small town that is the setting for The Band's Visit, is utterly unremarkable. But "unremarkable" is the last adjective one would use to describe the score for this new musical, about an Egyptian police orchestra who, thanks to a linguistic mix-up, find themselves stranded overnight in a tiny Israeli town. Written by Tony nominee David Yazbek, the music ranges from haunting and ethereal to rousing and comedic, weaving together the structures and storytelling needs of musical theatre with melodies and orchestrations that are undeniably, authentically Middle Eastern. The end result is a score that takes a moment to absorb fully, but once it does, it's hard to stop thinking about.
"Waiting" and "Welcome To Nowhere" kick off the album with back-to-back odes to the monotony of life in Bet Hatikvah. "Waiting," the opening song, introduces us to the town's residents who have one thing in common: a feeling of being stuck. It also introduces us to one of Yazbek's best instruments throughout the score: the pure, powerful, haunting chorus of voices. Where "Waiting" is reflective, as the residents describe their own lives internally, "Welcome To Nowhere" is sarcastic and biting, as they introduce their stranded Egyptian guests to the town. It's filled to the brim with wry lyrics such as "Pick a sand hill of your choosing / Take some bricks that no one's using / Build some buildings, put some Jews in." Pairing these songs back-to-back gives a pretty good overview of the musical as a whole: half earnest yearning, half sharp comedy.
Later in the album, we get another set of perfectly paired songs: "Papi Hears The Ocean," sung by Etai Benson, and "Haled's Song About Love," sung by Ari'el Stachel. There may not be a funnier or better-matched buddy duo on Broadway right now than Benson and Stachel, and their pair of songs is one of the best parts of the whole album. As Papi, Benson is endearingly awkward, even as he masterfully trips through the tongue-twisting patter of his song, a sweet and hilarious explanation of Papi's inability to connect with girls. Stachel's Haled is the perfect foil, with a crooner's smooth, jazzy tones that glide through his explanation of the secrets of love: "don't break the ice, you melt the ice." Their pair of songs are a perfect storm of humor, heart, and that shared human longing to love and be loved - who could ask for anything more?