Last night I saw the new, critically-acclaimed Off-Broadway musical "The Band's Visit" at the Atlantic Theater.
Book: This intimate, small-scale musical is based off of a little-known movie of the same name. It is about an Egyptian band that arrives in Israel, but due to a mix-up at the border they arrive in a small town where "absolutely nothing happens." The unhappy village is called Bet Hatikva, which sounds very similar to the bigger city Petah Tikvah where the band is supposed to perform. The band travelers are taken in by the local villagers where their lives become intertwined.
Score: The unique music and lyrics are written by Broadway composer David Yazbek (who also wrote the scores to shows like "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" and "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown"). There are definite influences of Middle Eastern music, and many songs convey the backstory and inner monologue of each character. The score is beautiful, and I hope they record a cast album to preserve it (and so I can listen to the songs again!).
Acting: The 14-person ensemble cast is brilliant and multitalented. The actors playing the Egyptian musicians double as the orchestra, and one of the highlights of the evening is a post-curtain call performance of the band. Other cast standouts include Katrina Lenk, John Cariani, and Daniel David Stewart as some of the Bet Hatikva villagers, and Tony Shalhoub as "Tewfiq," the conductor of the Egyptian band.
My opinion: Not all musicals need to be big and splashy to be entertaining and tell a story. I loved every minute of the low-key "The Band's Visit," and hope that there is a future for it beyond the current limited engagement at the Atlantic (there are rumors of a Broadway transfer, but I could only see it playing in the smaller Broadway theaters). I give it 9/10 escapes! "The Band's Visit" is currently playing a sold-out run at the Atlantic Theatre, but has recently been extended through January 8th.