This season’s off-Broadway musical The Band’s Visit is officially making the jump to Broadway, beginning performances at the Barrymore Theater in October. The musical, set in the late ’90s, tells the story of an Egyptian ceremonial orchestra that (accidentally) spends a night in a small Israeli town, as Arabs and Israelis find common ground. It’s poignant and beautiful, if a bit simplistic. Songwriter Tony Yazbek does a wonderful job, and it’s exciting that book-writer Itamar Moses will finally make his Broadway debut; David Cromer will once again direct.
The transfer, while not surprising given the run’s success, is a bit of a risk given that the show is quiet and intimate. It may have to beat both Frozen and Mean Girls for Best Musical in the 2018 Tony Awards, both of which are sure to be big, loud shows that will draw a younger crowd. So how can The Band’s Visit capture audiences uptown? Here are a few ideas:
— Keep the bulk of the cast. While Tony Shalhoub will put butts in seats, the lesser-known actors are on the whole wonderful, including Katrina Lenk who’s currently performing on Broadway in Indecent.
— Put said cast through better dialect coaching. In the off-Broadway production, you could usually tell who was and wasn’t actually a speaker of Hebrew or Arabic.
— Shorten the songs, just a few of them! The score, and one of the show’s best qualities, is beautiful, but Yazbek has a tendency to let them drag on to a point of self-indulgence. Broadway audiences don’t have a comparable attention span, and they’ll drift.
— Add historical context. The original film came out in 2007—both closer to the official end of Israel and Egypt’s hostility, and in a country where you could assume everyone was well-versed on conflict and its subsequent resolution. In 2017 in America, you can better assume the opposite. How best to explain the conflict in a way that doesn’t feel forced I leave to the venerable creative team.
— That said, keep the cultural shibboleths. If the show doesn’t open with a bored-looking Israeli eating Bamba, it would be a real shame.