When actor Joe Joseph describes starring in the national tour of Broadway musical “The Band’s Visit,” he speaks of his grandfather from Lebanon.
“I don’t think my grandfather when he came to this country would have assumed I’d be in a Broadway musical —
and certainly not playing a young Arab man who's not defined by conflict, but by the song he has to sing and the story he has to tell,” Joseph says.
Following the story of an Egyptian band getting stranded in a small, Israeli town, the show offers complex characters speaking in three languages.
It also conveys Middle Easterners in a peaceful way that audiences don’t often see, Joseph notes.
“When I first saw the show on Broadway starring Tony Shalhoub, it was strange. I felt like I was seeing my grandfather on stage,” he says.
Added to this, the national tour’s cast members hail from all over the world, he says.
“As an Arab-American, I am excited by stories that allow people to understand that we are inherently human and that our experiences connect us more than they divide us,” says Joseph, who plays Haled, a charming member of the Egyptian band. “This show will connect (audiences), whether or not they have that inherent bond to the heritage of the people on stage.”
“The Band’s Visit” originated as an award-winning Israeli film, which eventually attracted the attention of American theater producer Orin Wolf.
“When he watched the film, in his mind he saw something on stage,” Joseph says.
Wolf took a bold risk, Joseph adds, by adapting a foreign film largely unfamiliar to American audiences.
“There’s no guaranteed payoff in fleshing out a show like this,” Joseph says.
Yet the show garnered widespread acclaim both off and on Broadway, packing seats throughout. Beyond its many Tonys, the show also earned a Grammy.
“The Band’s Visit” earned this success by offering a starkly different experience than most Broadway productions, Joseph says.
The musical portrays the blossoming relationships between people of different nationalities through their humorous and emotional interactions.
The show focuses on building empathy for characters, Joseph says, rather than flashy visuals or showstopping numbers.
“That it has maintained this incredible sense of intimacy and authenticity is simply rare,” he says.
Honoring the many cultures portrayed on stage, the production’s eclectic score includes musical styles from across the globe.
“You have rock, musical theater tunes, jazz and traditional Arabic music,” Joseph says.
Many musicians also perform on stage, he adds.
These include principal characters, as well as professional musicians who have never performed in a musical before.
“All of these elements make the score truly soar,” he says.
Many audience members feel rewarded by the story’s warmth, Joseph adds.
“This show has incredible soul,” he says. “It will be unlike any musical audiences have ever seen.”
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