It is the silence that deafens in the quirky yet delightful production of “The Bands Visit,” running through Feb. 6 at the Golden Gate Theatre in San Francisco. There is no major glitz on the stage – a simple, functional turntable and the set showing a worn down building which serves as the café is the extent of the bell and whistle. The show has a choreographer, but there will be no big dance numbers in Bet Hatikva, the town that will never be confused with one that has stuff to do. A powder blue band with sharp creases and honorable hats plays wonderful, traditional sounds, but they are in this town purely by a word jumble.
The power and sheer brilliance of the show is in how it works with silence. Each moment of peace and quiet oozes with metaphoric volume. The citizens who are discovered by the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra on their way to a different town yearn for life, but will settle for just living. Screams and cries aren’t heard, but they’re always felt.
While the original cast was phenomenal, featuring a fantastic set of young and veteran talent, a group largely responsible for the 11 Tony nominations and 10 awards that the show earned, the touring cast is wonderfully strong with a powerful and poignant energy.
The story is quite simple with a quaint and pointed exposition, allowing the audience to settle in for a simple viewing (although not-so-new sound issues at the Golden Gate didn’t help the play’s specific dialect work).
Acting 101 has an old adage when it comes to understanding purpose – every character on the stage needs something. Needs and high stakes is what engrosses an audience in a narrative, and the play delivers these dynamics in spades. It is a scintillating set of creatives that adapted the wondrous 2007 film – music by David Yazbek, a gripping libretto by Berkeley’s own Itamar Moses, and taut direction by David Cromer.
While the original cast was a collection of established stars and fresh talents who were ready to explode onto the Broadway scene in 2017 after the off-Broadway transfer, the touring cast is also terrific in their own right. Janet Dacal, who delighted audiences in the original Broadway cast of “In the Heights,” shines bright as Dina, the woman who chops watermelon as a revenge plot yet compelled by the regality of the warm Tewfiq (Sasson Gabay in a role he played in the film). The band doesn’t disrupt a whole lot of excitement in the sleepy, laconic little town but instills life into these pedestrian citizens who do things like float around on couches and stare at payphones.
The most powerful theme in the show is one of longing. Take a look at every one of these forlorn citizens handcuffed by their own insouciance, and their desires are simple yet so far out of reach. While Dina builds a reputation as a hard-edged sword of a woman, she is compelled by the smallest details of Tewfiq – his simple prayers and deft arm motions move her to no end. Tewfiq is also his own mystery, a man teeming with pride and sadness. Just notice the devastation on Dina’s face when he wishes to end the evening of friendship after her altercation with the married man she takes up with. She is crestfallen, and his sentiments as a man of dignity are too much for her. Yet her desires are filled by the ego-centric and handsome charmer Haled (Joe Joseph).
The songs and the traditional Jewish instruments are incredibly intoxicating, a soundtrack that has taken on a new purpose in the days of the pandemic, answering our infinite isolation and solitude. “Omar Sharif” is gentle and moving, with haunting and wistful lyrics that are beyond brilliant. In many ways, it’s a song that sets the pace for the show, a moment where we learn how far Dina has fallen in her life, sharing of a time when her imagination used to rule the day. Other tunes such as “Waiting,” “The Beat of Your Heart,” and Papi’s hilarious venting in “Papi Hears the Ocean,” handled with fabulous comic timing by Coby Getzug, all have a clear purpose. The gentle charmer “Haled’s Song About Love” by Joseph just melts the ground while melting Papi’s vicious insecurities at the skating rink. “Answer Me,” the only number where the entire cast is on stage together, is a scintillating payoff of what was a fruitless journey, the tune handled beautifully by Joshua Grosso.
Plenty of shows will display a striking, Broadway aesthetic that will be familiar to those who love some talk followed by a tune. This is not that show. Happy ending? Umm, maybe? Maybe not? The striking thing about “The Band’s Visit” is how it affirms our belief that in these dark times of solitude and disconnection, music and art can save us.
WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO
BroadwaySF presents “The Band’s Visit”
Music by and lyrics by David Yazbek
Book by Itamar Moses
Directed by David Cromer
The Word: The power of art, the deafening silence of solitude, and a delicious score of luminous tunes make “The Band’s Visit” quite a special show.
Golden Gate Theatre
1 Taylor Street, San Francisco, CA
Tickets range from $56 – $256
For tickets, call (888) 749-1799 or visit www.broadwaysf.com