Cast members of “The Band’s Visit.” PHOTO: T. CHARLES ERICKSON

‘The Band’s Visit’ dances and sings to peace and understanding



‘The Band’s Visit’ dances and sings to peace and understanding

Cast members of “The Band’s Visit.” PHOTO: T. CHARLES ERICKSON

For Daniel Pelzig, “Art and music bring people together.” With that kind of human bonding in mind, the Jewish professor at the Boston Conservatory at Berklee has been choreographing the Huntington Theatre-SpeakEasy Stage Company production of “The Band’s Visit,” now running through Dec. 17 at the Huntington mainstage.

Recently, the award-winning choreographer spoke to the Journal about the “very collaborative, very joyous” staging of the Tony Award-winning musical.

“The show is about loneliness and connection,” said Pelzig. In that light, he stressed that “all theater should delve into the soul of a character.” The versatile choreographer – whose extensive credits include opera, work with the Boston Ballet, and an upcoming Boston Conservatory revival of the musical “City of Angels” (Nov. 29-Dec. 2) – has tied specific moves to respective characters.

“Every character’s physicality comes out of their past,” he said. Singling out a visually striking roller-skating sequence, Pelzig noted, “I tried to create an environment. It’s very timely but it’s also very specific.”

Pelzig – who spent a summer on a kibbutz as a teenager – has choreographed “an amalgam of Middle Eastern dances.” He spoke of using “a smattering of Egyptian dancing” in “The Band’s Visit.” The staging’s repertoire also includes Lebanese and Druze moves. At the same time, he concluded, “In the larger picture, you come to realize that [diverse ethnicities and cultures] all have the same human condition.”

“The Band’s Visit” may seem like a small musical to some seasoned theatergoers, but this disarmingly sweet show actually has a lot to say about shared human needs for love, friendship, and understanding. Based on the award-winning 2007 film of the same name, the 2017 Broadway play also centers on a 1996 visit by an Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra to Israel. Due to trumpeter Haled’s thick Egyptian accent, a request for tickets to culturally thriving Petah Tikva ends up putting the title band in a largely deserted fictional Negev desert town called Beit Tikvah.

Stranded in Beit Tikvah until the next available bus to Petah Tikva the next day, the band collectively and individually share food, lodgings, and time with the few Israeli men and women they meet. That sharing – thanks to the insightful book of playwright Itamar Moses (the son of Israeli immigrants) and the evocative score of David Yazbek (the son of a Lebanese father and a half-Jewish mother) – becomes a mutually rewarding experience for the residents and visitors alike and an alternately humorous and touching 90-minute odyssey for audience members.

Under Paul Daigneault’s seamless direction, a big-voiced cast shines in ensemble as well as solo and duo numbers. Jennifer Apple captures café owner Dina’s resilience, tenacity, and warmth. She delivers the standout number “Omar Sharif” with a winning combination of sentiment and sweetness. Kareem Plasmatic finds all of charismatic Haled’s style and good nature – especially as he advises café worker Papi, played with proper diffidence by Jesse Garlick – in “Haled’s Song About Love.”

Pelzig’s choreography for a stunning roller-skating rink sequence is wonderfully exuberant. Jared Troilo is very moving as fellow worker and father Itzik – particularly on “Itzik’s Lullaby.” Other strong efforts include Brian Thomas Abraham as band-leading widower Colonel Tafiq, James Rana as composer-musician Simon, Robert Saoud as grandfather Avrum, and Marianna Bassham as Itzik’s conflicted wife Iris. Jose Delgado conducts the band – featuring the pear-shaped oud (guitar) and goblet-shaped darbuka drum – with nuance and great feeling.

There are powerfully understated moments of sharing between Israeli and Egyptian characters. “The Band’s Visit” – sharply co-orchestrated by Huntington Theatre and SpeakEasy Stage Company – is a subtextual symphony to peace and understanding. Θ

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