Composer-lyricist David Yazbek burst onto the Broadway scene when he earned a Tony nomination for his Broadway debut, The Full Monty. A light pop-rock sound dominates that first Main Stem score, and his follow-up took at turn toward the bold and brassy—and earned him another Tony nomination. Yet he took hold of another brand new style with Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, exploring aharmonies and Spanish rhythms—and earned another Tony nomination. Yazbek’s daring is on display again this season with The Band’s Visit, the Israel-set intimate musical about an Egyptian police orchestra that winds up in the most boring of desert towns instead of the Arabic Cultural Center.
Using authentic Arabic instrumentation (the oud, the riq, etc.) combined with comic sensibility and romantic, sweeping melodies, Yazbek could make it four for four in 2018. (He won the Drama Desk Awards for Oustanding Lyrics and Outstanding Music as the show premiered Off-Broadway last season.) Clearly, Yazbek takes his own advice of “listen to everything” and allows styles to blend like spices. Here, the artist reveals his writing process behind the songs on The Band’s Visit album—now available from Ghostlight Records.
Which song inspired the turntable scenic design? Which song is based on his own experiences with his wife? What’s the secret to “Omar Sharif” working the way it does? What is written and what is improvised?