By Shari Goldstein Stern
On the heels of the 2018 Tony Awards, Jewish community member Marilyn Schwartz traveled to see her adult daughter, Emily, in New York. They saw the “Best Musical” on Broadway, “The Band’s Visit” (TBV). Schwartz had this to say about the Tony winner: “The show is more about life and relationships between people than it is huge production numbers with flashy costumes. I like shows like this. There was some light humor, but it was also very touching when it explored individual lives and relationships.”
Schwartz continued, “Every character seemed to take away some benefit from a chance meeting that only happened because of a simple mistake. Emily and I were both smiling at the end.” She added that an Orthodox couple sitting next to them were also smiling. Schwartz, who is a volunteer at The Legacy Willow Bend and Hunger Busters, added, “To sum up my thoughts about the show: It is understated, humorous and touching. I recommend it.”
The compelling musical is onstage at AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Winspear Opera House through Feb. 23 in collaboration with Dallas Summer Musicals. Broadway’s TBV production, based on the 2007 film by the same name, earned 10 Tony Awards including Best Musical. Other Tonys the musical garnered in 2018 included Sound, Lighting, Original Score, Lyrics, Book, Orchestration, Direction, Scenic design and Leading actress. The show also earned awards from the Drama League, and New York Drama Critics’ Circle, the Outer Critics Circle, the Lucille Lortel and the Obies.
The show also earned a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Sound Design and won the Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album. The score is exquisite and many songs can be heard in advance of the performance at www.thebandsvisitmusical.com.
The musical tells the simple story of human connection and commonality between cultures. It is set in Israel in 1996 in the fictional Negev town of Bet Hatikva. Because of a mix-up, the Egyptian band ends up “lost” and way off the beaten path. Because there’s not another bus until the next morning, musicians and locals get to talking at a small café.
Sasson Gabay, the actor who brilliantly led the cast of the 2007 film as Lt.-Col. Tawfig Sacharya, reprises the poignant role in this national touring company. Gabay also brought the Lieutenant-Colonel to life in the Broadway production. In the film, Gabay, who is originally from an Iraqi Jewish family in Baghdad, portrays Sacharya as a polite, gentle, and pensive man with a curiosity in his face about everything that’s new around him. He wants to know about the people he meets but is too shy to probe. He is a strict disciplinarian of the band. Relationships between the musicians, and with their new acquaintances are at the root of the story, along with their shared passion for music.
Dallasite Debbie Schweig and her family also saw “The Band’s Visit” in 2018 at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on Broadway. She said, “We saw the original cast and they were terrific. The music is Middle Eastern and uses some rare musical instruments. The band plays their music on the stage itself.”
Schweig continued, “The music is simplistic without any large musical or choreographed moments. I particularly enjoyed the songs ‘Welcome to Nowhere,’ ‘Haled’s Song about Love,’ and ‘Omar Sharif’ that were sung in the production we saw by those in the original cast album.”
Gabay has dozens of film and television appearances to his credit in addition to dramatic and musical theater, both Israeli and internationally. Among his credits are “Catch-22,” “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” and “Rain Man.” He played the grouchy Hook in the 1989 musical, “Captain Hook.”
Gabay treasures the experience he has enjoyed on his journey from the film, to Broadway and now the tour. “In 2010 this show changed my career and my life,” he said.
When the actor first went into audition for the film role, he read some of the script and told the casting director, “I know this man. You’re wasting your time to audition me.”
Then in 2010, the film’s producer asked him, “Do you want to join me for this adventure?”
In 2018, Gabay joined the Broadway cast and then this national tour.
In the story, the characters share some of their innermost feelings with each other. “People sometimes share more with a stranger than they do with those around them,” the actor said.
According to Gabay, “The stories we tell as actors are always relevant. But right now, this story is more relevant than usual. We learn to overcome boundaries, welcome our differences, and learn about each other’s nationalities.” He continued, “In the show, each character shares something from their heart with another, and learns something from the heart of another,” Gabay added. “I have shared intimate things with people I don’t know that well.
Although he has sung many times in Israeli performances, he considers himself “an actor who can sing.” He also describes “The Band’s Visit” as a play with songs.
The actor is traveling with his wife and his son, Adam, who is also in the show playing “Papi.” The couple have five children and five grandchildren. He says he’s thrilled to be with his family on this adventure. The tour was in Houston before making its Dallas production.
When asked about touring in a show with his son, Adam, Gabay was happy to talk about how proud he is. “Adam was about 4 in kindergarten. He was participating in a Hanukkah celebration. “I watched him and knew in five minutes he was meant for the stage,” the proud father said.
By Shari Goldstein Stern