Katrina Lenk co-stars in "The Band's Visit."

Katrina Lenk co-stars in "The Band's Visit." Credit: AP / Evan Agostini

Sitting on a small sofa in her dressing room at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, Katrina Lenk can drink in the sights and sounds of the Middle East. The place is decked out in Moorish décor, the spicy scent of some Eastern oil hanging in the air. But then there’s that silver disco ball, the size of a grapefruit, a gift from her co-star in “The Band’s Visit,” Tony Shalhoub (and part of an in-joke with the cast). “Who doesn’t love a disco ball?” she says, laughing.

Lenk laughs a lot — and blushes if you mention her luminous performances last year in the Broadway drama “Indecent” and the Off-Broadway version of “The Band’s Visit,” a critically acclaimed production that moves to Broadway on Nov. 9.

That musical — a quiet, haunting piece by “The Full Monty’s” David Yazbek (music and lyrics) and Itamar Moses (book), directed by David Cromer — is based on the 2007 cult Israeli film. It concerns an Egyptian police concert band that gets stranded in a desolate Israeli town, bringing together a sultry if jaded café owner, Dina (Lenk), and uptight band conductor, Tewfiq (“Monk’s” Shalhoub).

An Illinois native, Lenk also starred in Broadway’s “Once” and “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.”

Your character, Dina, doesn’t seem the standard musical ingénue.

Yessss. I always kind of felt . . . weird. (She laughs.) The first role I was cast in professionally was Sally Bowles in “Cabaret.” I guess that makes sense — she’s an ingénue but a strange bird. I’m constantly surprised whenever I get cast in anything, so . . . (She laughs again.)

In the show you and Tony Shalhoub discuss an old Egyptian movie, “River of Love,” starring Omar Sharif. I found it on YouTube.

Yes! With subtitles. Beautiful movie.

So is Shalhoub as romantic as Sharif?

(She leans back.) He’s such a wonderful, generous actor — and human being. He’s . . . so present. Willing to try new things. There’s no ego. Everyone knows him, so he could be (she acts haughty), “I’M TONYYYY.” He’s not. He’s just one of us, and we’re all an ensemble together. He’s amazing to work with. Lovely.

I just noticed—on your makeup table you have a mug with Sharif’s face on it.

Yes, a friend custom-made it. And Umm Kulthum is on the back.

You sing a great song about growing up loving Omar Sharif and Umm Kulthum. I had no idea Umm was a name — and a major female singer for decades in Egypt.

Yes, “OOM cool-TOOM” is a strange name for us to hear. I’ve studied up on her — and the whole region. In August, after our Off-Broadway run, some of us went to Israel, to see the small town this story is based on. So we saw what it’s like to be literally in the middle of the desert.

What’s that like?

You feel simultaneously alone, yet surrounded by people in town. It’s a strange feeling of vast distance, and tight community. And the sound of the wind — we were actually living all these things we talk about in the show.

I gather you’re quite musical. You played several instruments as a kid — interesting choices.

Yeah — viola and oboe. I like things that are . . . challenging. Not so mainstream. I’m curious about the stuff that’s not look at me, but more mysterious and reserved.

Why those?

My older brother was playing cello, so I’d go to all these concerts and I remember thinking, “Why are there a hundred violins but only two people playing . . . that one? Somebody said it was hard, and I was like, “Oh! Well! They clearly need more people to do it.” It was the same with the oboe, which is like the viola of the wind section.

Why do viola players get such grief?

We’re like the joke, the middle child. But that’s where all the great harmonies are, the interesting musical lines. Maybe you don’t notice they’re there, but when they’re not there, something feels missing.

What are you missing lately? Relaxation time?

Just now I’ve started to . . . like, OK . . . maybe I can watch “Stranger Things.” (She squeals with delight.) But there’s always so much more to learn about the Middle East. I like the idea of constantly investigating, going deeper.

Your last show, “Indecent,” was also rich in history — about a controversial Broadway play.

It’s airing on PBS (on Nov. 17). They filmed it for “Great Performances.” So I’m . . . nervous. That’s the beauty of theater — it’s there and it’s gone. A pressure’s lifted. But this is like . . . forever. Who knows, maybe somebody will look at it and be inspired. Maybe. But . . . I’m . . . terrified I’ll be terrible.


However maybe someone will see it and think of something they haven’t thought of before.

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