The final touring musical to arrive in the Twin Cities this year is also the best and, honestly, it's not even close.
It's not as glitzy or loud as everything else in Hennepin Theatre Trust's season, and you should be prepared for not a lot to happen, but "The Band's Visit" is flat-out gorgeous. It's based on a fairy tale-like 2007 movie from Israel about an Egyptian band that accidentally goes to the wrong city in Israel. Stuck in Bet Hatikva, a tiny town whose residents aren't sure why they're there, the band members make the best of it — roaming around and interacting with villagers in ways that reveal that, in fact, they are exactly where they need to be.
"The Band's Visit" is structured as a series of small, isolated vignettes in which we are asked to pay attention to the tiniest of details. (One big pleasure of the show is that I believe it's the first appearance in the Twin Cities of the work of Chicago's David Cromer, maybe the most inventive theatrical director in the country.)
For instance, "The Band's Visit" is so quiet that you can hear the rustle of a napkin as Dina (Chilina Kennedy) places it on her lap in a cafe. She's a bored Israeli who is taken with Tewfiq (James Rana was one of three understudies who appeared on opening night), bonding with him over the Egyptian culture she saw and heard when she was growing up. There's also: a new mother whose baby and babyish husband are driving her up the wall; a young man who is too shy to approach a woman he admires, and another young man who, in a lovely image of longing, waits for days by a phone booth, hoping his beloved will call him back.
Each of these people is touched by a band member and, partly because there's a language barrier, the way they share their stories is through music: Tewfiq shows Dina how he conducts. A clarinetist plays the baby a lullaby. Disco pounding at a roller rink, a band member demonstrates to the lovelorn boy how to make a move.
Most of the songs are solos, influenced by Egyptian folk music and instruments, but everyone finally sings together in composer David Yazbek's soaring finale, "Answer Me." Their stories remain separate and, as they wander the stage, it's not clear if these isolated characters even know each other, but they are connected by music.
Nobody escapes the Nazis in "The Band's Visit" or avenges the murder of a gang member or even says, "I love you." It's a small, subtle musical that wonders what might happen if we realized how much we all have in common.
The light spilling out of closed shutters throughout the buildings in Bet Hatikva reminds us that there are other stories of yearning and loss in this town, stories we don't get to hear but would instantly recognize if we did.
The closest the show comes to a Big Statement is Tewfiq's "Who can live without hope?" Still, as the band members Fairy Godmother their way throughout the town, they demonstrate that music can be a balm, a come-on, an expression of grief and a gesture of hope.
Fate and hope bring the band to Bet Hatikva to remind residents of music's power to connect people who do not share a language, a faith or a country. And what a beautiful thing it is that, in a way, it's also fate (or a subscription) that will bring Twin Citians to the Orpheum to be reminded of exactly the same thing.