The Band’s Visit is a magical, bijou musical to send the soul soaring

The Band's Visit - Marc Brenner
The Band's Visit - Marc Brenner

Here’s a musical made of magic to send the soul soaring. There are no big numbers, no razzmatazz chorus lines, there’s barely much of a story. Yet this bijou show won 10 Tonys in 2018 and now arrives in a new, effortlessly seductive production by Michael Longhurst featuring a crack Israeli and Arab cast. It’s one of the best things he’s staged at the Donmar.

With a book by Itamar Moses based on the 2007 Israeli flick of the same name, The Band’s Visit is the story of a visiting Egyptian police orchestra that has wound up in a no-hope desert Israeli town by mistake after getting in a pickle over pronunciation.

To the town’s listless, disenchanted inhabitants, for whom daily life is as empty and unchanging as the desert itself, the band resemble a species from another planet, albeit one as uncomfortable in its stiff pale blue uniform as the town is initially suspicious. Yet over the course of one night, as the residents open their homes to their visitors, the band’s presence weaves a form of enchantment on the lives of these quietly despairing people, bringing about tiny transformations by establishing through music (score and lyrics are by David Yazbek) a common language of loneliness and love.

This sounds twee and sentimental, but Longhurst’s light-footed production has a concentrated Chekhovian depth and melancholy that mostly counters the soppiness. Much of the beauty derives from the intimacy of surprise encounters – the flirty, flinty cafe owner Dina, who once dreamt of being a dancer, discovers a mutual love for Arab movies (and a mutual sorrow) with the kindly worn down band leader Twefiq. Droll social comedy – the boy who waits every day by the public telephone for his girlfriend to ring – combines with exquisite everyday misery – the doleful young waiter (Harel Glazer, lovely) who gets so flustered in the presence of the girl he loves he can’t speak.

Yet music steals over their lives like mist – in one particularly tender moment, the clarinettist Simon (Sargon Yelda) plays a solo that sends the crying baby of two exhausted parents to sleep.

Harel Glazer, Yali, Topol Margalith, Levi Goldmeier, Ashley Margolis and Maya Kristal Tenenbaum in The Band's Visit - Marc Brenner
Harel Glazer, Yali, Topol Margalith, Levi Goldmeier, Ashley Margolis and Maya Kristal Tenenbaum in The Band's Visit - Marc Brenner

These are fragile underpinnings for a musical, but the inconsequentiality of the plot is the point. Longhurst’s production depends on the same stealthy sorcery as a fairy-tale – you have to some extent give yourself over – but it’s also immaculately observed. And if you want to impose on it the wider context of the Arab Israeli conflict you can, but joyfully, the show doesn’t insist on it.

The performances meanwhile are terrific – notably the star Israeli actress and singer Miri Mesika as Dina, who captures a life’s worth of yearning in a single song – while the virtuoso band are their own validation for the power of melody and a foot-tapping beat. It’s quiet and simple, yes, but it’s precisely that alchemy that makes it special. I’d watch it again in a flash.

Until Dec 3. Tickets 020 382 3808; donmarwarehouse.com