A discussion with Tony Award-winning director David Cromer about The Band’s Visit, the winner of the Tony Award for Best Musical that tells the story of a group of Egyptian musicians who end up in an unexpected place in Israel.
“IT IS NOT A WORK PUNCTUATED WITH ROWDY CHEERS AND FOOT-STOMPING OVATIONS. THE BAND’S VISIT FLOWS WITH THE GRAVE AND JOYFUL INSISTENCE OF LIFE ITSELF. ALL IT ASKS IS THAT YOU BE QUIET ENOUGH TO HEAR THE MUSIC IN THE MURMURS, WHISPERS, AND SILENCES OF HUMAN EXISTENCE.” — BEN BRANTLEY, THE NEW YORK TIMES
The “Telephone Guy” arrives on stage early in The Band’s Visit. Long before he speaks, we see him in the background, staring at a payphone like he can will it to ring.
His vigil adds a provocative texture to the show. Until he starts interacting with other characters, he’s like a phantom on the periphery, reminding us that Bet Hatikva, the small Israeli town at the center of this quiet new Broadway musical, is brimming with souls.
And those souls are everywhere we look. As the show moves between major scenes, director David Cromer fills the transitions with glimpses of other characters. On our way to a song or fight or flirtation, we might see a woman smoking or a musician daydreaming or a man rolling by on skates. We have just enough time to wonder about them before the turntables in the set carry them smoothly away, back to whatever they’re living through.
“I wanted it to seem like we were finishing one storyline and then wandering down the street to another storyline,” Cromer says. “It’s a way to cast the spell that we all feel is in the story. That spell is in the original film [that the musical is based on], which is not afraid of silence and space. And it’s in [composer] David Yazbek’s music, which has this feeling of sitting back as it’s flowing forward.”
Cromer’s staging also emphasizes how much is happening in this town. “The show doesn’t have a lot of very overt events — no one is suddenly getting married or getting sick — but it feels very full to me,” he says. “Most of our lives are spent like that. Floating through things, waiting. And waiting is an active thing. It is expectation. It is wanting.”
All this wanting and
–waiting creates a crackling energy. By the time the ensemble sings “Answer Me” in the final scene, we understand that all of these people are hungry for a different — even just a slightly different — life.
Cromer sees hope in their longing, and in the small things that eventually do change in the village he’s shown from so many angles. “It’s about that moment when you’re pretty sure nothing else is going to happen, or nothing interesting is going to happen, or you’re never going to get woken up again,” he says. “I’ve been convinced at various times that I wasn’t going to be woken up again by anything, and then it will show up. So just when you’re pretty sure it’s over, it ain’t over.”
For more from David Cromer, including his thoughts on how this show tells every type of love story, visit TheBandsVisitBook.com.
About the Show
The critically acclaimed smash-hit Broadway musical THE BAND’S VISIT is the winner of 10 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, making it one of the most Tony-winning musicals in history. It is also a Grammy Award® winner for Best Musical Theater Album.
In this joyously offbeat story, set in a town that’s way off the beaten path, a band of musicians arrive lost, out of the blue. Under the spell of the desert sky, and with beautiful music perfuming the air, the band brings the town to life in unexpected and tantalizing ways. Even the briefest visit can stay with you forever.
The cast of world-class performers is led by award-winning Israeli actor Sasson Gabay, star of the original film and the Broadway production, as well as Chilina Kennedy, known best for her historic run as Carole King in Broadway’s Beautiful – The Carole King Musical. With a Tony- and Grammy-winning score that seduces your soul and sweeps you off your feet, and featuring thrillingly talented onstage musicians, THE BAND’S VISIT rejoices in the way music makes us laugh, makes us cry, and ultimately, brings us together.