Broadway shows are starting to travel again. This is big business and success will depend on how many people are ready to go to the live theater. In New York City, venues are filling up again, especially since the travel ban on foreign tourists has been lifted (for now at least). Across the country, the jury is still out. In Los Angeles, things have shaken a bit, with a couple of black playwrights making productions of their new jobs to protest the treatment of women in the theaters in question.
One show opening in Los Angeles is the recent Tony winner, “The Band’s Visit,” a musical based on a 2007 Israeli film that deals with a long-standing religious rivalry after an Egyptian marching band accidentally ended. in a small town in Israeil. After seeing the film some 14 years ago, theater producer Orin Wolf flew to Israel to convince reluctant filmmaker Eran Kolirin of his plan to adapt the film to the stage. (“He said, ‘I don’t want to see my characters in cat costumes,'” Wolf recalled). After obtaining the rights, Wolf hired Tony-winning composer David Yazbek to oversee the musical elements. But the directors still weren’t sure exactly what kind of show they were producing. Step into the deceased legend, Hal Prince. “Hal became my mentor for two years,” Wolf said. “And finally he said, ‘dude, you have to call this a musical.’
The first stop was the Atlantic Theater Company on Off Broadway, where the musical performed to perfection and garnered rave reviews. After moving to Broadway, where criticism remained strong, the show managed to beat the best-known musicals from on-stage movies like “Frozen” and “Mean Girls” for Best Musical at the 2018 Tony Awards, one of the 10 Tony who helped run the show for a year and a half.
The show has just kicked off its national tour, delayed due to the pandemic, with the second stop at the 3,400-seat Dolby Theater in Los Angeles, where performances began this week. (James Nederlander, whose Nederlander Organization owns the Dolby, is one of the producers of “The Band’s Visit.”)
It’s a great place for a little show about a group of people stuck in tight spaces. “We talk about creative reasons no to do it (on Dolby) as we were concerned about safeguarding the privacy of the show, “admitted Wolf. “But I really don’t think the size of the theater matters. We have done things like a slight adjustment to a light or a sound effect. Wherever you sit, you feel the excitement. “
A few other modifications have been made along the way. “I reorganized myself a bit with the music,” said Yazbek, whose previous screen-to-stage musicals include “The Full Monty” and “Tootsie.” “And that has had to do with the composition of the band: we may be giving someone a little more time based on their particular experience with an instrument. I remember saying early in our process that if we think this is going to be a Broadway show, we won’t get it right. We have to respect what has to be. “The producers have also ensured that both sides of the religious angle are portrayed truthfully and fairly. The lead role in the Los Angeles production is played by Israeli actor Sasson Gabay, who he played it in the original movie.
Other recent Tony winners such as “Hamilton” and “Hadestown” have also resumed their national tours, with stops planned for Los Angeles as well.
“The Band’s Visit” plays in LA’s Dolby Theater until December 19.
Michele Willens is a coastal journalist. She writes a weekly theater report, Stage Right Or Not, for an NPR affiliate.