Monday, June 11, 2018

Legitimate Theater: Bonus #4. The Band's Visit (2018)

The Band's Visit
Welcome to Legitimate Theater: a column dedicated to movie-based stage musicals. The goal of this series is to explore those stories that originated in films and eventually worked their way onto Broadway and beyond. By the end of each entry, there will hopefully be a better understanding of this odd but rampant trend in modern entertainment. Are these stories really worth telling through song and dance? How can it even compare to the technical prowess of a camera and seamless editing? Join me on this quest as I explore the highs and lows of this trend on the third Wednesday of every month and hopefully answer what makes this Legitimate Theater.


In what I'm writing off as a happy accident, I forgot to write about The Band's Visit before it won big at the Tonys last night. With that said, it's definitely based on the most obscure movie of the group, and would be easily to overlook in most circles. However, it's a film that could benefit from a musical component, especially given that it's about how music brings everyone together. The fact that it's between Egyptian and Israeli cultures only sweetens the deal. The question isn't so much now will it win but if it actually deserved it.

A Quick Background

Tony Wins: 10 Wins including Best Musical
Based on: The Band's Visit (2007)
Music: David Yazbek
Lyrics: David Yazbek
Book: Itamar Moses
Prominent Actors: Katrina Lenk, Tony Shalhoub, John Cariani, Ari'el Stachel


1. "Overture"
2. "Waiting"
3. "Welcome to Nowhere"
4. "It Is What It Is"
5. "The Beat of Your Heart"
6. "Soraya"
7. "Omar Sharif"
8. "Haj-Butrus"
9. "Papi Hears the Ocean"
10. "Haled's Song About Love"
11. "The Park"
12. "Itgara's"

13. "Something Different"
14. "Itzik's Lullaby"
15. "Something Different (Reprise)"
16. "Answer Me"
17. "The Concert"
18. "Afifi (Bonus Track)"

Note: Listen to the music here

Song Exploration

Opening Song:

For a show all about not catching the right bus into town, it feels fitting that the characters are introduced in a moment of waiting. There's an impatience in it that plays well into the personality of the show. It's full of great comic asides and fleshes out the characters while conveying just how frustrated they are. Most of all, it's a catchy start that reflects just how musical this whole show is going to be. Along with the "Overture" that precedes it, it creates a nice clash of cultures and ideas while introducing characters and plot in effective ways. In terms of opening songs, it may be quieter than the other Tony-nominated hits, but it also packs more of a punch thanks to its song craft.

"The Concert"

In theory, all of the musical tracks could be considered Carryover material since they're a band who played repeatedly throughout the film. In fact, there's a good chance that "The Concert" doesn't even sound like the final concert in the movie. But still, the conceit is there and expanded upon in a way that gives it more emphasis. There's a fun power to it that benefits from having several songs lead into it. Suddenly the concert has weight because you understand the passion of these musicians and how they just want to be respected and loved by fans no matter where they're from. This may not be a deliberate Carryover, but its sentiments remain largely the same. 

High Point:
"Answer Me"

While "Omar Sharif" may have been an easy favorite in the early half of the album, it's this track that tilts it towards greatness. Here we get an intimate song where one singer performs each note with a certain that makes it an emotional experience. Suddenly you want to know if he will ever get that answer. It has a power to it that develops and builds, ending in a perfect ensemble choir backing him up. It takes on deeper meaning, but most of all it reflects how this show uses music and culture fusion to tell a story about connectivity. It has a power even when there's not a lot of instruments playing, and that's why it's one of the best of 2018.

Low Point:
"Papi Hears the Ocean"

It seems unfair to pick on this song for the sole fact that the show probably needed a song where Papi reflected his hormonal struggle. Still, it's an odd fit considering that every song around it has s passion and heart that digs into deeper emotion. Here, there's plenty of humor and character development that is fun, but it's hard to go from thinking fondly of Omar Sharif to being insecure around women. Yes, the writing's good enough that it reflects something interesting about his culture and it is done to an innocuous rhythm, but it still is the odd man out given that the other songs are all so much more nuanced and passionate.

What Does It Bring to the Story?

The one thing that's abundantly clear is that the band is finally playing music throughout the entire show. It's essentially what makes this a great addition to the musical canon. To shift focus to plot, the real addition to the entire story is an exploration of characters that includes giving each major musician a song or moment to really shine and give a backstory that has power. It reflects why music is important to them and why they are touring musicians in general. As good as the 2007 movie was, it was lacking a deeper status for some of its characters. Here, you can notice it in every note and instrument played. As a whole, the music alone gives the characters something more to chew on.

Was This Necessary?

The one obvious note that was made consistently at the Tonys last night was that this was a significant musical for giving Egyptian and Israeli actors someone to play. That alone gives it merit. However, it's a show about musicians and thus gets easy points for being a no-brainer adaptation. However, it's so much more than just a raucous performance. It has a lot of heart and style fusion that I feel gets to the heart of what makes these cultures special and creates an understanding of what they need and want in ways that only songs can achieve. It's a powerful set of songs that reflect a culture not often recognized on popular American shows, and it's a ton of fun too. It's an easy favorite because it feels the least cynical and in fact has more on its mind that heightened theatricals, which was an issue for the others - for better and worse. 

Coming Soon: The second official entry for Legitimate Theater will be released on the third Wednesday of June, also known as next week. The hint is that since the first column was on an Oscar-nominated movie that won big on Broadway (including Best Musical), I thought that I'd reverse it and find a show that won big on the Oscars (including Best Picture) but not so much at the Tonys. 

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