BY MO BRADY
Often when we mention an ensemble, we talk about the energy they bring to a musical. In a traditional Broadway musical, we look to an unnamed ensemble of non-specific personalities to either provide support for the protagonist’s journey or to act as an obstacle for the leading characters. While these kinds of ensembles have a point of view, it is usually a singular purpose shared by the entire supporting cast.
In The Band’s Visit, the acting company works as an ensemble not to provide support or obstacles but to provide context. What is so successful about the ensemble work in The Band’s Visit is not the ways they interact with the lead characters, but the texture they give to the environment.
One of the incredible ways The Band’s Visit envelops its audience is by featuring its musicianship. While the show is definitely a musical, there are long stretches of time without a traditional theatre song. And yet, the musicians spend time a lot of time on stage, not as actors commenting on the action but as people in the story. The four onstage musicians who play members of the band, Ossama Farouk, Sam Sadigursky, Harvey Valdez and Garo Yellin, are presences in the events of the show even without speaking lines. And yet, when they perform virtuosic solos on their instruments they feel just as vital to the show as the actors who do have lines.
Perfectly balancing the metaphorical tightrope between actor and musician is George Abud as Camal. While he is one of the actors credited with a specific character in book scenes, he is also one of the show’s most heavily featured musicians. With haunting eyes and a cigarette dangling precariously from his lips, he seamlessly flows from actor to musician in a way that defies description. Whether he’s playing a violin solo or simply staring into space, It’s a performance that can be best defined as a “presence.”
Often when a show employs its performers as a non-traditional ensemble, it uses some sort of framing device to justify it. We saw this concept used beautiful in this season’s Once On This Island, where audiences enter the theatre to find a stage of actors playing Haitians who will eventually tell the story of Ti Moune. But in The Band’s Visit, no such device is needed. Since all of the actors play featured roles, we believe them as real inhabitants of Beit Hatikva no matter the character.
Moments after Andrew Polk as Avrum brings down the house with his performance of “The Beat of Your Heart,” he transforms into a silent and unassuming cashier. In the same scene, Bill Army and Sharone Sayegh play two judgmental restaurant customers who are completely different from their comedically ostentatious characters of Zelger and Anna. Similar shape shifting occurs from cast members Rachel Prather, Jonathan Raviv and Kristen Sieh in their various roles both large and small.
This duality is perhaps embodied most beautifully by Adam Kantor as Telephone Guy. For the majority of the show he silently stands onstage, eagerly awaiting the ring of a public telephone. And yet, when he finally gets his moment to emote in the haunting beautiful “Answer Me,” we are already deeply invested in his story. While almost every performer on the show gets a moment to stand downstage center, they also help to create the beautiful texture of The Band’s Visit.