David Yazbek, The Band’s Visit, “Omar Sharif”
A musical that opened off-Broadway in 2016 before triumphing on Broadway the following year, The Band’s Visit was based on the much-acclaimed Israeli film of the same name from ten years earlier. David Yazbek had previously written three other hit musicals adapted from well-known films: The Full Monty, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. In The Band’s Visit, his accomplishment (and that of Itamar Moses, who wrote the book) was to create a work of stunning intimacy for Broadway, with a score that skillfully blended elements of both Israeli and Egyptian popular music.
The Band’s Visit focuses on a potentially uncomfortable situation for the characters, eventually confirming that people from contrasting political and social worlds can truly connect through their common humanity. The Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra has traveled to Israel, booked to perform for an Arab cultural organization. When no one meets them at the airport, they board a bus thinking it will drop them at their destination, the town of Bet Hatikva. But it’s the wrong bus: they wind up in Petach Tikva, where they encounter no Arab cultural center, but instead, a community that is initially wary of them. With no bus to take them back until the next day, they’re offered accommodations by Dina, the outwardly tough yet emotionally vulnerable proprietor of a local café. Dina gradually feels drawn to Tewfiq, the leader of the group. At dinner, the two compare notes on their youth. In the song she sings to Tewfiq, Dina wistfully recalls that as a girl she’d been enchanted by two Egyptian performers: the singer Umm Kulthum on the radio and the actor Omar Sharif at the movies.