On the morning of Tuesday, January 8, the best restaurant in America according to the James Beard Foundation – Zahav – and the Tony Award winner for Best Musical – The Band’s Visit – joined forces for a press breakfast (with Yemenite short ribs no less), musical performances and chats with The Band’s Visit’s producer (Orin Wolf), stars, composer/lyricist (David Yazbek) and book writer (Itamar Moses) in anticipation of its Kimmel Center/Academy of Music run through January 19.
Based on the 2007 film, The Band’s Visit, by Eran Kolirin, the story finds Alexandria (Egyptian) Ceremonial Police Orchestra get unexpectedly stranded in the isolated desert town of Bet Hatikva with music as their sole, true common language. “It’s about people being stuck together,” noted Wolf who caught the origin movie at the Other Israel Film Festival in New York City in 2007 and decided to buy the rights for a musical theater version.
After performing several songs from The Band’s Visit such as “Soraya,” combining elements of up klezmer and Middle Eastern classical music, you could hear what Yazbek meant during the morning’s conversation when he stated that he was but merely adding ‘cumin’ when composing the musical’s tunes. He was certainly not looking to make his tracks “more palatable for Broadway,” as the question went. Rather, Yazbek and book author Moses were looking for a sound and feel more authentic to the characters and the story, something quieter than the usual boisterousness of Broadway, more intimately conversational.
While show lead Sasson Gabai – a man who appeared in the original film before taking over the Broadway lead from Tony Shaloub when the latter left – told a funny joke about thinking producer Wolf “was secretly crazy to make a musical out of such a gentle story,” multi-instrumentalist Ronnie Malley made the most sense regarding the dual notions of art as diplomacy – with food.
As a Chicago-raised Palestinian musician, and someone who loves to cook, he and the touring drummer for The Band’s Visit have become the de facto touring chefs, cooking for the musicians while on tour – every Friday a Shabbat kosher meal. “The metaphor between food and music – all art – is inseparable,” said Malley. Yazbek then extended the metaphor, by stating that music is “a vehicle for connection, a means to connection.”
The quiet, intimate conversation of The Band’s Visit in a world where meaning is so often lost to clutter and clatter is necessary. According to producer Orin Wolf, who actually got married at Zahav around the time of the restaurant’s opening, the “language of The Band’s Visit is a balm.”