CD Review: THE BAND’S VISIT (Original Broadway Cast Recording on Ghostlight Records)

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by Tony Frankel on March 15, 2018



Perhaps composer/lyricist David Yazbek (The Full Monty, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) was inspired by one of our best new playwrights, Itamar Moses, and his adaptation of the terrific 2007 film, The Band’s Visit. Perhaps his experimentation with harmony, melody, Spanish rhythms, and character development on Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (an intriguing but messy score from 2011) prepared him for the Middle East flavor of this new Broadway show. Perhaps it was his background in classical music fused with his Jewish/Lebanese ancestry. Either way, he has come up with a small but profoundly satisfying score that keeps echoing long after it’s over. A trip by a minor Egyptian civic band stuck in a Podunk Israeli town is an occasion for a fascinating investigation into what forces make us all tick. It’s also a quiet story about the uncomfortable charm of coerced hospitality. Traditional Mid-East flavors and American jazz effortlessly mesh to generate a stylish new sound, heightened with fascinating orchestrations by Jamshied Sharifi (utilizing the riq, oud, darbouka, etc.). Through lyrics that are both shrewd and heartfelt, Yazbek elegantly transports us in both place and time while offering some truly beautiful music, with improvisational playing by some of the actors themselves. The subtle and nuanced score, now available on Ghostlight Records, also has the smoky, sultry voice of Katrina Lenk as a world-weary café owner (“Omar Shaiff”). In fact, all 18 tracks are awash in distinction and idiosyncratic voices that hearken back to the OBC albums when the actor was just as important as the song. There is a hushed intimacy here that warrants repeat listenings to let the score wash over you. If you’re wondering that some songs end just as they’re beginning (“It Is What It Is”) or don’t have lyrics at all (“Haj-Butrus”) or lack musical accompaniment (“Itgara’a” — Tony Shalhoub’s only song), just wait until Etai Benson as Papi laments his inability to connect with women in the hysterical, catchy “Papi Hears the Ocean” — you’ll be instantly hooked and in love with The Band’s Visit.

The Band’s Visit
Original Broadway Cast Recording
Ghostlight Records
1 disc | 18 tracks | 42:38
released February 23, 2018
available at Amazon and Ghostlight

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