“THE BAND’S VISIT” IS A QUIET, CREATIVE DELIGHT IN NORFOLK PRODUCTION

There is only one phone in the tiny desert town of Bet Hatikva in Israel. It is guarded night and day by a lonely young man who keeps the line open in hopes that his long-lost girlfriend will call him.

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The town’s lone café is run by a vibrant woman with a very healthy libido. Dina is bored by the town and life without her man, the husband who either deserted her or was thrown out.

A teenage boy who has never “known” a woman gets highly simplified instruction from a younger musician at the local roller rink.

Such are the villagers of “The Band’s Visit.” They live in a country beset by political and religious strife, but little of it touches them. And, blessedly, little of it touches this musical.

In the opening moments of this compassionate winner of 10 Tony Awards on Broadway, we are told that a band of Egyptian musicians once took the wrong bus and ended up in the town overnight. But: “You probably didn’t know about the visit. It was not important.”

Chrysler Hall has seldom been so quiet for a touring musical. Folks craving big doings and golden oldies, like the upcoming “Fiddler on the Roof,” met instead with this unique and highly creative musical about …

About what?

Human nature? Lost love?

The cast sings lovely, plaintive songs like “Answer Me” and the lullaby from a father to his baby.

Always, the characters sing about hope.

“The Band’s Visit” is based on a 2007 movie that was highly acclaimed as Israel’s best of the year. The stage adaptation became only the fourth musical to win all six of the top Tony Awards. But it is not a typical Broadway musical. No tap dancing. No big laughs. Just people. And exotic, throbbing music with Arabic influence, played by an on-stage band – the band that visits.

Chilina Kennedy has the all-important role of Dina, a woman who speaks her mind and is bold about it – and yet is also poignant and stifled by the emptiness engulfing her.

Her songs give Kennedy no chance to cut loose and soar. She adapts, but she lacks the lovely, balletic hands of Katrina Lenk, who won a Tony for her Broadway portrayal. Kennedy’s Dina is a more earthy, tough and abrasive Dina, but thoroughly believable in a different way.

She sings a song called “Omar Sharif” to illustrate the fact that her view of the outside world has been shaped largely by “Doctor Zhivago” and “Lawrence of Arabia.”

The beautifully written lyrics, though, are indiscernible in the cavernous Chrysler Hall. The sound problem was exacerbated by the fact that the show is designed to be so intimate. (The Broadway theater that was previously its home was significantly smaller than Chrysler Hall). Losing much of the poetry of this show is a tragedy.

Sasson Gabay, one of Israel’s most cherished actors, recreates his movie role as the band leader. He brings weariness and wisdom to the part.

“The Band’s Visit” got the usual standing ovation from the local audience, but the natives were restless in the lobby.

Yes, the show was slowly paced, even slower than it was on Broadway. But “The Band’s Visit” shows how live theater can weave a spell when chances are taken. It will stand out as the most original of this Chrysler Hall season.