A Jasmine Journey


By Sarah Balcombe

With an east wind allegedly bringing Mary Poppins to our screens in December, Katrina Lenk’s and Tony Shalhoub’s references to a jasmine wind transporting “Omar Sharif” to their own screens, delighted audiences, on Sunday night at Radio City Music Hall. As The Band’s Visit accrued rewards at the Tonys, the viewers were themselves transported beyond the re-carpet affair to the intimacy of a circumstantial encounter. Deceptively mundane in its storyline of an Egyptian band accidentally stranded in a southern Israeli town, it is the show’s exoticism,  fragrant imagery, promise and simplicity which ultimately secured its deliverance.

This vulnerable, volatile glimpse into complex lives, renders this performance sublime and relatable. With Arabic ouds and riq cacophonies yielding to Middle Eastern melodies, one is reminded that harmony can be found in the most unlikely of sources. Whether these fragmented souls are restored to any semblance of unity, or merely relieved by an interlude to their grieving and monotony, it is unlikely that Broadway will again witness such restorative dignity, for a very long time.  And it is this rawness of human dignity, that is the engaging message of the play. As suggestive in its possibilities as Mary Poppins and La La Land, The Band’s Visit authentically lacks any formal display of coordination or choreography.  No, the charaters will not be singing on the freeway,  flying up to the stars, or jumping over chimneypots, they are rooted in their displacement. That is both their tragedy and their release.

Like a good shakshuka, these actors/ ingredients of humility combine, blaze and reduce to produce a tantalizing blend of simmering optimism, palatable for both the everyday and special oocasions. The rendition of “Omar Sharif” with its jasmine  breeze, accompanies even the most reluctant viewer on a journey of nostalgia and commonality. The Band’s Visit much-needed theme of cross-cultural inclusivity should be rewarded and it is, with 10 Tony awards celebrating Orin Wolf’s mature adaptation of such a flavorsome movie. The only regret is that Ronit Elkabetz, who was inspiring in her role of the beguiling Dina in the 2007 movie did not live to see this achievement. It will be interesting to see what her cinematic counterpart, Sasson Gabay, will make of Broadway’s stage. Providing yet another reason to revisit the show, the biggest challenge will undoubtedly be securing a ticket.

(Photo: John P. Filo/CBS)