Yet Another Exceptional NPR Tiny Desk Concert: The Band’s Visit
May 21, 2018 | Josh Rogosin — After nearly 800 Tiny Desk concerts, The Band’s Visit is the first Broadway musical ever to play the series.
The crew from the show, which opened last November at the Ethel Barrymore Theater, descended on NPR at 8:30 a.m. — seven musicians, five actors, a wardrobe department, a make-up artist, a publicist, a music director, the composer and even a vlogger. We started early so they could hustle back to Manhattan for a 7 p.m. curtain.
The story of The Band’s Visit, composer David Yazbek told the Tiny Desk audience, “is about hope and faith and silence and music.” It tells the tale of Egyptian musicians stranded in a small Israeli village. The townspeople have no choice but to take them in. Eventually, the love of music allows the characters to see past their differences and form an unlikely bond in a single night. The musical was adapted from the 2007 film and has been nominated for 11 Tony Awards.
From the first note strummed on the oud, Yazbek’s nominated score transports the Tiny Desk to the Middle East with traditional instrumentation and melodies, and weaves in beautiful theatrical ballads.
Among the cast are Tony Shalhoub (known for his TV roles in Monk and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel) and Broadway veteran Katrina Lenk (Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, Once and Indecent). They both have been nominated for their lead performances.
Although it’s a Broadway smash hit, it lacks the opulent, bring-down-the-house song and dance numbers. It’s a more intimate show with some universal messages that fit the up, close and personal space of the Tiny Desk.
The Band’s Visit insists that it’s OK, even essential, to get “stuck” with strangers who have different perspectives. It serves as a poignant reminder that our common connection to music can rise above the noise of intolerance.
Yazbek’s poem Itgara’a, translated here from Arabic and sung a cappella by Tony Shalhoub, sums up the show’s philosophy:
When you drink, drink deeply.
Drink deeply of the moonlight
drink deeply of the dark
of the loneliness
of the joy.
You will never drain the moonlight
you can never end the dark.
In your eyes, the flash of joy
in your mouth, the sweet shock of honey.
You are the joy
you are the loneliness.
Harvey Valdes (oud / guitar), Garo Yellin (cello), Sam Sadigursky (clarinets), Ossama Farouk (darbuka / frame drum), Alexandra Eckhardt (bass), Andrea Grody (piano), David Yazbek (composer / host), Katrina Lenk (“Dina” / vocals), Kristen Sieh (“Iris” / vocals), Adam Kantor (“Telephone Guy” / vocals), Tony Shalhoub (“Tewfiq” / vocals), George Abud (“Camal” / violin / vocals)
Producers: Josh Rogosin, Morgan Noelle Smith, Tom Huizenga, Jeff Rogers; Creative Director: Bob Boilen; Audio Engineers: Josh Rogosin, James Willetts; Videographers: Morgan Noelle Smith, Niki Walker, Bronson Arcuri, Maia Stern; Production Assistant: Stefanie Fernández; Photo: Eslah Attar/NPR.