Hearts touched during ‘Band’s Visit’

By Shari Goldstein Stern

Running now at the Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House in collaboration with Dallas Summer Musicals is “The Band’s Visit” (TBV), a sweet little story with a unique treatment. TBV is resolutely slow-moving, dim and relaxing to experience, with a few laughs along the way.

Sasson Gabay (left) and Janet Dacal are an unlikely pair to bond, but they do so beautifully in “The Band’s Visit.”
Photo by Evan Zimmerman

If it is a traditionally bold musical with flashy costumes and boisterous, but perky production numbers you expect, that’s not what you will get in “The Band’s Visit,” (TBV). 

The musical tells the simple story of human connection and commonality between cultures. It is set in Israel 1996, at a bus station in the middle of the Negev desert town of Bet Hatikva, the city of Petah Tikva, a region of Southern Israel. 

An Egyptian police band was invited to perform a concert in Israel, but after boarding the wrong bus, they end up in the tiny village, covered with sand, where they make do with the generosity and hospitality of the handful of residents.

It’s easy to become engaged with the lead character, Lieutenant-Colonel Tewbiq Sacharya, portrayed by Sasson Gabay (or Gabei), the actor who brilliantly led the cast of the 2017 film as Sacharya, as he reprises the poignant role in this national touring company. Gabay also brought the Lt. Col. to life in the award-winning Broadway production following Tony Shaloub in the role. 

In the film, Gabay, who is originally from an Iraqi Jewish family in Baghdad, portrays Sacharya as a polite, gentle and pensive man with a curiosity in his face about everything that’s new around him. 

A vulnerable Sacharya wants to know about the townspeople he meets but is reluctant to engage due to his polite formality. He is a strict disciplinarian of the band. Relationships between the musicians and with their new acquaintances are at the root of the story, along with their shared passion for music.

The band’s disciplined conductor reveals a little about himself to the provocative Dina, who runs the town’s only café. Dina is played with heart and dynamite vocals by Janet Dacal.

“The Band’s Visit” is the winner of 10 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, making it one of the most Tony-winning musicals in history. 

The lovely score is telling without being pretentious. The songs, “Welcome to Nowhere,” “Haled’s Song about Love,” and “Omar Sharif” are especially memorable. The entire ensemble cast performs with grace and ease with the subtle, middle Eastern flavor to its music.

Gabay has dozens of film and television appearances to his credit in addition to dramatic and musical theater in Israel, America and internationally. Among his credits are “Catch 22,” “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” and “Rain Man.” He played the grouchy Hook in the 1989 musical, “Captain Hook.” 

The Israeli actor is traveling with his wife and his son, Adam, who is also in the show as Papi. The couple has five children and five grandchildren. Gabay says he’s thrilled to be with his family on this adventure. 

When asked about touring with his son, Gabay was happy to talk about how proud he is. “Adam was about four when he was participating in a Hanukah celebration.” I watched him and knew in five minutes he was meant for the stage,” the proud papa said. 

Gabay treasures the experience he has enjoyed on his journey from the film, to Broadway and now the tour. “In 2010, this show changed my career and my life,” he said. 

When the actor first went in to audition for the film role, he read some of the script and told the casting director, “I know this man. You’re wasting your time to audition anyone else.”

Then in 2010, the film’s producer asked him, “Do you want to join me for this adventure?” In 2018, Gabay joined the Broadway cast and then this national tour.

In the story, the characters share some of their inner-most feelings with each other. “People sometimes share more with a stranger than they do with those around them,” the actor said. 

According to Gabay: “The stories we tell as actors are always relevant. But right now, this story is more relevant than usual. We learn to overcome boundaries, welcome our differences, and learn about each other’s nationalities.” 

He continued, “In the show, each character shares something from their heart with another, and learns something from the heart of another,” Gabay added. “I have shared intimate things with people I don’t know that well.”

Although Gabay has sung many times in Israeli performances, he considers himself, “An actor who can sing.” He also describes “The Band’s Visit” as “a play with songs.”

The tour was in Houston before making its Dallas stop. “I like Dallas better,” he said on a bright, clear and mild Sunday afternoon in Dallas.

“The Band’s Visit” will continue at the Winspear Opera House through Feb. 23. For tickets visit thebandsvisitdallas.com or call 800-982-2787.