The Band’s Visit: Cast Album Review
Any score by David Yazbek is an exciting event. We have witnessed his ever-evolving talents for years, reveling in the delicious character development brought forth in musicals such as The Full Monty, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and Women in the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. It is then, that I have eagerly anticipated Yazbek’s score for the newly opened The Band’s Visit. Proving that his musical styles vary and he can incorporate and blend a wide range of musical styles, I am thrilled to report that the original cast album for The Band’s Visit is an account of a sublimely unique score that reveals a whole new side of Yazbek. The new recording from Ghostlight Records is a haunting revelation of musical complexity that Broadway fans will want to own and absorb over repeated listenings.
Before speaking directly about the music on this cast recording, I want to address the importance of a story like The Band’s Visit in this particular time in our country’s history. In an age where divisiveness is tearing at the fabric of our nation and our differences are growing exponentially, how inspiring it is to have a story (set in one of the most divided regions of the world) that explores commonality. The world is made all the more beautiful and intriguing by what makes us unique, and yet we build walls instead of bridges where cultural, political, and religious differences are concerned. David Yazbek demonstrates, with his score for The Band’s Visit, that variety woven into the fabric of musical theatre results in a powerful and moving product. Just listen to this album and drink in the influences of Egyptian folk, klezmer, American jazz, and even a touch of the traditional showtune. It’s a hypnotic sound he has found to tell this story about a group of Egyptian musicians representing the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra who end up stranded in a remote Israeli village due to a pronunciation error in their travel plans. Yazbek’s juxtaposition of musical styles is the perfect way to tell this story of the cultural clash, and eventually the dissolving of the barriers, between the Egyptian musicians and their Israeli hosts.
So, onto the score. I will say that this is not a cast album to listen to lightly. It deserves close attention to detail and is bears repeated listening to fully digest what it offers. For some, it will not be an easy first listen because of the patience such attention requires. Do it anyway. Hunker down and give yourself over to the poetry and cultural experience of The Band’s Visit. Let it envelop you with its mysterious melodies and the pictures that its lyrics paint. The show’s performers will enthrall you with their voices, particularly Katrina Lenk whose vocal cords silkily caress such atmospherically evocative and emotionally charged songs as “It Is What it Is” and “Omar Sharif,” the latter my personal favorite of the score. Lenk has a distinctively unusual voice, akin to the unique sounds that we embraced from the likes of Lotte Lenya and Yma Sumac. It is rich, earthy, and of a plane entirely its own. What’s more, it is the medium by which the spirit of Yazbek’s score is channeled to the audience.
The Band’s Visit is easily the most exciting new musical of the season, and this cast recording preserves what is easily the most mesmerizing score of the last two or three seasons. This musical is something special, but that is hardly surprising when Yazbek always digs deep within his well of musicality to offer us such rich and complete characterizations through song. We’ve come to expect nothing less, yet we are delighted to hear his talents evolve with each passing show.