The next stop for “The Band’s Visit” is Providence

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By now, you’ve probably heard of the Broadway smash hit “The Band’s Visit.” Originally an Israeli film, it tells the story of how an Egyptian Police Band is accidentally sent to a remote Israeli town in the middle of the desert after a mix-up at the border. 

The show, which ended its Broadway run in April, has broken box office records and won 10 Tony awards, including best musical, in 2018.

And now, its national tour is kicking off  at the Providence Performing Arts Center. That’s right. Here in Rhody.

Jewish Rhode Island recently had an opportunity to chat with Itamar Moses, the playwright who adapted the movie’s script to the stage.

The 42-year-old writer was one of the Tony winners for his “book.” And although he’s from the San Francisco Bay area, he has a connection to Providence; his Israeli parents are Brown graduates.

How does a playwright hook up with a show like this?

“They emailed me,” Moses said. It was out of the blue.

Eventually, he got pretty excited about the project.

“What I like is how many ways it was the opposite of what I would expect,” he said in a recent phone interview. “It was quiet, introspective. Musicals are inherently melodramatic.”

But this was about a band, so the music was a natural fit.

According to Moses, David Yazbek, who wrote the music and lyrics, had a similar feeling about the project.

The two worked together on creating a Broadway musical with universal relevance.

“This happens to be about Egyptians and Israelis. But it could be about any two groups where there is potential for conflict,” Moses said.

When the police band ends up in the small Israeli desert town, they discover that there is no bus until morning and no hotel. But soon the travelers are taken in by townspeople. And from there the two unlikely groups find common ground.

“When you strip away all of these things, people want food, shelter, universal human things,” Moses said.

He said that because the story is set in a small town, it’s especially relatable. There’s comfort in the familiarity.

The show premiered off-Broadway at the Atlantic Theater Company in 2016.

“We opened [on Broadway in November 2017] at a time when there was the larger question of opening our borders to strangers. This story is based on taking in the stranger. It is so basic.”

The Tony Award was a huge surprise to Moses. The show was up against a few new musicals, he said.

“I thought our show would do well, but I was up against Tina Fey,” he said. “I was hoping to enjoy the once-in-a-lifetime experience of being a nominee.”

He called the win an “out-of-body experience.” 

Moses has also won New York Drama Critics Circle, Lortel and Outer Critics Circle awards for his work.

On Broadway, Tony Shalhoub played Tewfiq and Katrina Lenk played Dina, the lead roles. In Providence, those roles will be played by Sasson Gabai and Chilina Kennedy.

As for the appeal of what has been called a quirky comedy, Moses said, “It’s a little mysterious to me.”

He added, “This is a show that sneaks up on you. It ends up going a lot of places. It’s a subtle but powerful emotional experience … there’s something deep under the surface that moves people.”

FRAN OSTENDORF (fostendorf@jewishallianceri.org) is the editor of Jewish Rhode Island.