By: Adam Green
As the composer and lyricist of such high-octane Broadway musicals as The Full Monty, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, David Yazbek has mostly been, he says, “able to rely on Faster, Louder, Funnier.” Yazbek had to abandon that credo for The Band’s Visit, the quietly ravishing new musical, written with Itamar Moses, that, after a rapturously received run at the Atlantic Theater last season (it beat Dear Evan Hansen for the New York Drama Critic Circle’s Best Musical Award), opened on Broadway last month.
Based on Eran Kolirin’s 2007 art house film about an Egyptian police band accidentally stranded for the night in the dreary Israeli desert town of Bet Hatikvah, it is unlike any musical I’ve seen—understated, with a dry wit and a yearning soul. Under the masterfully nuanced direction of David Cromer (Our Town), and featuring a perfect cast led by Tony Shalhoub as the band’s buttoned-down conductor Tewfiq and Katrina Lenk as the worldly wise Israeli cafe owner Dina, not much happens on the surface, while underneath worlds collide and hearts and minds open. “It’s about romantic love, and it’s about connecting with people from another culture and dissolving boundaries between self and other,” Yazbek says. “Ultimately it’s about longing for connection with God. And I think that’s why people are so moved by it, though we never say it.”