“THE BAND’S VISIT” BRINGS A TONY AWARD-WINNING CHAMP TO NORFOLK

What promises to be the most momentous season of touring Broadway shows since “The Phantom of the Opera” made history in Norfolk opens this week at Chrysler Hall.

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“The Band’s Visit” will get things rolling with eight performances. Of course, “Hamilton” is driving the excitement about this season, but this week’s musical is not something to overlook.

It won 10 Tony Awards in 2018, becoming only the fourth production to take all the top Broadway awards, including best musical and best actors (Katrina Lenk and television star Tony Shalhoub).

Speaking as someone who has seen all the season’s shows out of town, this is the one I would most want to see again.

It’s not a boy-meets-girl story. It’s about a man and a woman who meet in an unlikely way in a part of the world beset by war and cultural strife, and under a desert moon.

Based on the 2007 Israeli film of the same name, it’s the tale of an Arab band traveling from Alexandria, Egypt, to a performance in Israel. The band takes a bus to the wrong place, a remote Israeli desert town where monotony is king, and the musicians must spend the night before traveling to their real destination.

The town has little to offer, and some suspicious locals view the Arabs with loathing.

Dina, the vibrant woman who owns the local café, invites the band members to a meal and a night’s shelter. She is drawn to the vulnerability of the band’s leader, Tewfiq. He talks about a son and wife, but there is a mystery there.

The music, with its middle Eastern themes, is refreshingly different from Broadway norms, and the quality is remarkable. The musical won a Grammy Award for the Best Musical Theater Album.

The touring show scored a coup by landing the star of the movie, Sasson Gabay, to recreate the role of Tewfiq on stage. Gabay was born in Baghdad and grew up in Israel, and has won awards from the Israeli Film Academy and the Israeli Television Academy.

“The Band’s Visit” is the highest-grossing Israeli film to be released in the United States. Yet, the adaptation was considered a financial risk for Broadway. It had no tap dancing, no broad jokes, no big production numbers and a setting that was disturbing rather than comforting. Nonetheless, it struck Tony gold, if not a huge pile of box office gold.

Chilina Kennedy, who has the role of Dina, thought she was auditioning for the Broadway run, only to find that the show was closing in New York. The producers of the national tour were happy to have her play the leading lady on the road.

Calling from Toronto, where she was appearing in the show, Kennedy noted that playing Dina was a far cry from her best-known Broadway role, Carole King in the musical “Beautiful,” in which she starred for four years.

“I worked with dialect coaches a great deal,” she said. “I found that it is more difficult to sing in an accent than it is to talk. In one scene I have to speak Hebrew with an Israeli accent. It is different, you know. But, actually, I wasn’t much like Carole King either. It’s called acting. It’s my job.”

She feels it was a boon to get the leading man of the movie for the show’s cast. ”Gabay has lived there. We all go to him for references,” she said.

She said the music is “different” but not “exotic.”

“We have a team of very unique, very professional musicians, none of whom thought they would ever end up in a Broadway show.”