THE GROUP’S VISIT to the Fisher Theater is a love letter to Middle Eastern music and culture
Now playing Fisher Theater until May 1, recently Tony Award darling The group visit is a musical with a lot of heart and a deeply rooted mission to unite cultures, rather than divide. Having won 10 Tony Awards in 2018, including Best Musical, you’ll be inclined to jump into this musical with high expectations. While I’m not saying you shouldn’t have high expectations, you should know that the genius of The group visit lies not in musical numbers or flashy costumes, but in honest (and modest) storytelling.
The group visit is based on a 2007 Israeli film of the same name. The two entities surround what happens when an Egyptian band (known as the “Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra”) comes to the wrong Israeli city. Instead of arriving in Petah Tikva for the opening of the local Arab cultural center, they instead end up in the bland little town of Bet Hatikva (a mistake anyone could make, if Bet Hatikva were a real place). Over the course of a day, local Israelis and visiting Egyptians get to know each other, well beyond their cultural differences.
Being a Jew myself and having already written once about the importance of The group visit, I have been looking forward to seeing this musical for 4 years now. The 90 minute show did not disappoint. The music that is great on the cast album is phenomenal in person, and the ethnic mix of the cast members helped sell the story all the more. While the lack of conflict may hamper the plot in that it doesn’t move as fast as modern audiences might appreciate, it also sells you on one of the show’s most important points. : Bet Hatikva is a place where not much happens.
Among the many delicacies of The group visit has the opportunity to see the famous Israeli actor Sasson Gabay reprise his role from the film. He plays Tewfiq, the band’s bandleader, in both the original 2007 film and on Broadway, and now on the nationwide tour through Detroit. He interprets the role as authoritative, yet vulnerable when the story calls for it, and although he doesn’t sing too much, Gabay’s seasoned stage presence lends all the more authenticity to the script.
The other track of group visit, Janet Dacal, is also a triumph as Dina, one of the local Israelis who owns a cafe. Dacal’s Dina is sharp and insensitive to Bet Hatikva’s dullness, though this facade is knocked down by her interactions with Gabay’s Tewfiq. The highlight of Dacal’s performance comes in the form of the song “Omar Sharif”, where his character shares his family’s experiences with Egyptian media as a child. On its own, the song is beautiful, but Dacal brings a special quality to the song that makes it all the more poignant.
As mentioned earlier, one of the highlights of the show is the music. In terms of songs, favorites include “Omar Sharif” (from Dacal’s Dina), “Papi Hears the Ocean” (from Coby Getzug’s Papi), “Haled’s Song About Love” (from Joe Joseph’s Haled), “Itzik’s Lullaby” (from Clay Singer’s Itzik) and “Answer Me” (mostly from Joshua Grosso’s Telephone Guy, but also from the set). Also of note is the band, which plays classical Arabic music with a klezmer influence throughout the show and at the end, after the curtain call. A pure delight for the ears, the music of The group visit alone is worth the price of admission.
Unconventional and discreet, The group visit turns out to be a powerful piece of theater that redefines cultural appreciation. While he takes time to take off, The group visit quickly picks up as audiences learn about the characters and their growing relationships. Plus, the spectacle of seeing two cultures historically known to clash in a setting where they enjoy each other’s company is something you just don’t see every day in modern media. And that’s why, The group visit is a resounding success.
For more information or to buy tickets for The group visitto visit broadwayindetroit.comcall 800-982-2787 or visit the Fisher Theater in Detroit.
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