By Mo Brady
It happened again. I found a verse of a Broadway musical that I can’t stop thinking about. This stanza of music is the first thing I think in the morning and stays with me through the day. It’s been haunting me in the most delicious way.
The moment in question is the final verse of The Band’s Visit’s “Answer Me.” Composer David Yazbek has crafted a simple melody with truthful lyrics that pierce the heart with their specificity. The metaphors of “my ears are thirsty” and “the sodium light that masquerades as moon” are simultaneously singular to the circumstances but completely universal.
In performance, what makes this song so savory is its position in The Band’s Visit. After eighty minutes of simple, humorous and introspective storytelling, “Answer Me” sneaks up on the audience. It’s a lullaby for lovers sung long after midnight and therefore perfectly placed in the libretto. The song builds from virtual silence to a glorious, full-boded choir right before our very eyes (and ears).
As the Telephone Guy, Adam Kantor begins his vocals with an unbelievable simplicity. Up until this point in the show, his character has barely spoken. However, he has stood onstage for large swaths of the show, starring intensely with slumped shoulders at a public telephone that refuses to ring. And then at the top of “Answer Me” and for the first time in the show, he sings.
For a full minute, his voice is low and pure as he croons with skilled simplicity. And then he thrills us with his upper register, seamlessly gliding between head and chest voice. His lines are a masterclass in vocal technique. If the song was solely his it would be a gem, sung time and again at cabarets and in auditions for years to come. However, it turns from gem into masterpiece by incorporating the ensemble for the final verse.
After listening to Kantor’s elegant vocals for three minutes, it’s hard to imagine another voice exists with such clarity. But then, another equally pure voice sneaks in. Jonathan Raviv soars with his solo vocal line “In my dreams my beloved lies beside me.” More actors begin to join him, each lost in their own dreamstate. With a voice as smooth as honey butter, Sharone Sayegh sings “Only you when the sun is gone” as George Abud’s voice floats above her. As the full cast enters the stage to join one by one, each voice feels more glorious than the last.
With a building crash of cymbals Kantor takes the lead vocals for the song’s final lines, now backed in the harmony by the full cast for two glorious lines. The cast stands transfixed by something high in the sky above the audience’s heads. And the audience stares transfixed in them, basking in the warmth of the music.
And then, just as quickly as it appeared, the characters disembark the stage. The moment was so fleeting, it feels as though it could have been a mirage. And yet, it’s a moment of storytelling I will not soon forget.