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‘The Band’s Visit’ review: Egyptians, Israelis surprise, with charm

"The Band's Visit" is set in a tiny Israeli town where an Egyptian ceremonial police band has mistakenly landed and is stranded for the night. It's playing at Atlantic Theater Company's Linda Gross Theater. Photo Credit: Ahron R. Foster

WHAT “The Band’s Visit”

WHERE Linda Gross Theater, 336 W. 20th St.

INFO $75; 212-352-3101; atlantictheater.org

BOTTOM LINE Moody, odd, enchanting chamber musical about Egyptians and Israelis accidentally together for a night.

What a moody, strange enchantment is “The Band’s Visit.” This achingly wonderful new chamber musical, based on the 2007 film of the same name, transports us to a tiny Israeli town where an Egyptian ceremonial police band has mistakenly landed and is stranded for the night.

We never want to leave. But to the residents, the town is so dull they sing about “waiting, waiting for something to change,” as a slow turntable reinforces their sense of “moving in a circle.” Suddenly, in straggles the little band of musicians, as awkward in their formal uniforms as their unlikely hosts are startled, and, at least until dawn, things change.

The show suggests a bit of the disarming oddness of “Once,” but inhabits its own wistful, original world. Directed with impeccable poignancy and droll humanity by David Cromer, the seemingly effortless production includes Tony Shalhoub as the grave, heartbreakingly uneasy band conductor and Katrina Lenk as the gorgeous, earthy owner of the cafe, plus a cast of other marvelous actors who play instruments, and musicians who act.

The haunting, serpentine music is by David Yazbek, best known as the Broadway composer of “The Full Monty” and “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.” Those musicals have no discernible relation to this mournful and boisterous music — think ancient soulfulness and Middle-Eastern jazz for winds, strings and drums. As a character aptly describes it, “this is the sound of longing.”

The band, threatened by budget cuts back home, was meant to open an Arab cultural center in a town with a similar name. Itamar Moses’ delightful and subtle multilingual book takes us through the adventures and absurdities of the night, translated, when needed, by projections on Scott Pask’s simple, witty set with shifting walls that look like tired concrete.

“Nothing is as beautiful as something you don’t expect,” someone says near dawn. We agree.

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