Broadway in Portland’s The Band’s Visit is only in town through January 9, so grab your tickets before they’re gone!
“Nothing is as beautiful as something that you don’t expect.” So goes a lyric from The Band’s Visit, the latest Broadway touring show to come to Portland’s Keller Auditorium. These words prove true, for, though the show won a whopping 10 Tony awards in 2018, including Best Musical, Book and Score, most people I know had never heard of it. The simple plot even sounds a little boring, with opening lines that promise the audience a lack of excitement. “Once, not long ago, a group of musicians came to Israel from Egypt. You probably didn’t hear about it. It wasn’t very important.”
But make no mistake, this musical, which takes place over the course of an evening in a tiny, middle-of-the-desert town where nothing exciting ever happens, is a gift for the ears and soul. David Yazbek’s score is refreshingly different from typical Broadway musicals. There are no flashy, show-stopping dance numbers. Instead, The Band’s Visit is peaceful, poetic, authentic and utterly charming. Classical Arabic melodies integrate seamlessly with mediterranean klezmer music, ballads and jazz. Sometimes joined by the orchestra in the pit, the talented band members on stage play us in and out of scenes with such beauty you almost don’t want the next scene to start.
Most of the play is in English, though the characters are non-native speakers, so their conversations are deceptively simple. Yet, The Band’s Visit is much more complex. In 100 uninterrupted minutes, it covers a whole gamut of love relationships, and shows how we have more in common with people from different countries, cultures and religions than we think. It’s a celebration of love, music and the beauty of the everyday. I treasured every minute of it.
There were hardly any children in attendance Tuesday night, and though the 11 and 12 year-old sisters I met in the lobby said they liked it, it’s not really a show for kids. It’s not inappropriate, but it requires a stillness and appreciation for subtlety that most kids just don’t have. I recommend bringing mature teens or getting a babysitter and treating yourself to a wonderful date night out.
The show is very intimate, but Keller Auditorium is not, so it’s worth it to try and get seats in the front half of the orchestra level. Wearing face masks is required (and well-enforced), except when eating and drinking in the lobby, and vaccination cards are checked against IDs at the door, so bring both.
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