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I first became interested in Broadway musicals when I saw Wicked in 2011. I never would have imagined that one day, the Best Musical winner at the Tony Awards would be a musical based on an Israeli movie. In 2018, this became a reality with The Band’s Visit, based on the critically acclaimed 2007 Israeli film.
Centering on an Egyptian police band that gets stuck in a small Israeli town for a night, The Band’s Visit is a touching and beautifully human portrayal of Egyptian Arabs and Jewish Israelis sharing stories and culture with one another with no animosity in the slightest.
When I first saw their performance on the night of the 2018 Tony’s, I wasn’t too excited about the musical. At the time, I didn’t know anything about the show, and as a result, I was pretty unenthused. I even became frustrated when The Band’s Visit swept the Tony’s, winning 10 awards and absolutely crushing the SpongeBob SquarePants musical and Mean Girls as a result. These were two musicals I was expecting to win more awards, and in the end, they only walked away with one award between them. Now that I’ve seen The Band’s Visit film, however, I can say without a doubt that The Band’s Visit musical existence on Broadway is way more significant to Jews, Israelis and Egyptian Arabs than most people realize upon first glance.
In its simplicity, The Band’s Visit depicts a story between two groups people often view as hostile toward one another and explains that we are more than our country’s histories. Not once is the Israeli/Palestinian conflict mentioned, and not once are anti-Semitism or anti-Arabism a plot point. This story simply depicts human beings being human, sharing stories of love, death, hopes and dreams. We get to understand the characters beyond their ethnicities and religious backgrounds. This provides a refreshing change of pace to the narratives we often hear about the Arab-Israeli conflict.
The fact that The Band’s Visit is playing to Broadway audiences that are not uniquely Arabic, Jewish, Israeli or Egyptian makes this musical all the more significant. A mix of people who may identify as one of these, two of these, three of these or even none of these, are buying tickets to The Band’s Visit on Broadway to witness firsthand a tale of innate human stories that happen to be within an Israeli-Egyptian context. General audiences see these characters as real people underneath their identities. Moreover, through this story, general audiences don’t see Egyptians or Israelis as the oppressors, nor do they see hostility in the relationships built between these characters of different backgrounds. Whether you’re Jewish or Arab, you can relax while watching this musical, knowing that your cultural background isn’t going to be disrespected.
I hope more diverse tales akin to The Band’s Visit make their way to Broadway. In a world full of fear and hate, stories like this one can make an insurmountable difference in how we treat other people who may not look or act like us.
If you’re ever in New York City and have a spare night, go see the 2018 Tony Award-winning musical The Band’s Visit to support this increasingly significant brand of storytelling.