Boom Boom Clap, all right let’s get into this. I had the pleasure of seeing the new musical “The Band’s Visit” this week at the Fox Theatre. This critically-acclaimed show has earned 10 Tony Awards, one of which being for Best Musical, making it one of the most Tony-winning musicals in history. I was pretty intrigued by seeing this, due to this accomplishment being scattered on the posters and signs in the Fox Theatre’s lobby and in my playbill. All in all, let me tell you: it, uh, would not go in my personal top musicals of 2019.
Let me explain.
So flashback to 2018 to my VOX “Hamilton” review, when I wanted to become a musical buff and let’s just say I’m getting there. Since then, I’ve also seen ‘’Aladdin’,” “Dear Evan Hansen’,” ‘”Come from Away,” “Wicked’,” “The Book of Mormon,” “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “Becoming Nancy’,” “King Kong’,” “Rent,” and now “The Band’s Visit,” rounding it off to 11 musicals. I’m not a theatre kid (no matter how much I want to be), so this is pretty impressive given that I’ve seen more shows than my girlfriend who’s an actual tried and true theatre fanatic all the way.
So you can imagine my excitement when I got the opportunity to see the newest play showing at the Fox Theatre. “I wonder what it could be about? I hope the songs are good. I hope it’s good,” were the thoughts racing through my head last Tuesday. So you can imagine my disappointment when the other VOXers and I came out of the 100-minute show confused about the whole ordeal and agreeing that wasn’t the best.
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Taj, Iye and Isley, members of our VOX ATL theatre review team at the opening night of the Tony Award winning musical “The Band’s Visit” at the Fox Theatre! The show runs through Sunday. Check out our reviews later this week at voxatl.org. Special thanks to our community partners @mvkatl and @broadwayatlanta supplying us with the press night tickets!
The concept of the play is that Egypt’s Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra has been asked to play in a city in Israel but they get on a bus to the wrong town with a very similar pronunciation, off by one letter, “b” instead of a “p.” The musical follows this band as they spend the night in this desolate town with seemingly nothing to do. But they socialize with the inhabitants, play music, and learn more about each other.
Sounds like a pretty neat concept, right? It’s similar to another play that I wrote a review for called “Come from Away.” This follows the story of many passengers whose planes landed abruptly in the small town of Newfoundland Canada on Sept. 11. The play follows them as they are stuck in this town but they socialize with the inhabitants, play music, and learn more about each other. Sounds familiar right? But I digress.
The issue wasn’t the story per se, but the execution. See, this play is really, really, really quiet, and for good reason. There are many long pauses between dialogue and often, characters will sit in silence for extended periods. This was to imitate the silence of the city as one of the opening songs, “Waiting,” is saying how there is nothing to do in this Israeli town. So, while the sound reflects this, which is a clever choice on paper, but its execution fails. Now you can call me a “zoomer,” but my attention span is too short to really appreciate it. All forms of art, entertainment and meaning should be held to the same caliber. If one is sacrificed for the other then it just becomes a jumbled mess. So, the extended periods of silence in “The Band’s Visit,” coupled with the difficulty of understanding the Middle Eastern accents made the whole play kind of less than enjoyable.
Afterward, as I stood outside the Fox at 9 p.m. on the 28-degree night waiting for my Uber, I came to an epiphany. This wasn’t made for me and that’s OK. When I say, “This wasn’t made for me,” I’m not saying in a bratty way like “Oh, I’m not cut out for this kind of media blah blah.” I’m saying that I’m glad this musical was made because it presents Arabic culture as culturally amazing and in this day and age, it can win the Tony for Best Musical. I’m sure that there’s an Egyptian or Israeli or just Middle Eastern theatre kid in the audience who felt going in that they weren’t cut out to be in a musical because they hadn’t seen themselves presented as theatrical actors before saw this and found inspiration.
Besides, I didn’t hate the musical as a whole. The live music that the actors played was phenomenal, to say the least, and the set was gorgeous with many interesting details that make you want to examine the whole thing. Now that you know what the show is about and how it’s set up and this makes you want to see it, I strongly recommend “The Band’s Visit.” It’s a refreshing cultural change from the familiar run of the mill musical format.
VOX teens had the opportunity to attend press night of “The Band’s Visit,” thanks to Broadway in Atlanta and Most Valuable Kids of Greater Atlanta.
Taj, 16, is a junior at Maynard Jackson High School and is planning to take his theatre-geek girlfriend to a play for Valentine’s Day.