Egyptian band in Israel musical wins big on Broadway

Katrina Lenk and Tony Shalhoub from The Band's Visit perform onstage during the 72nd Annual Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall on June 10, 2018 in New York City. (AFP)
Updated 11 June 2018
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Egyptian band in Israel musical wins big on Broadway

NEW YORK: A heart-warming musical about an Egyptian band visiting an Israeli desert town triumphed on New York’s Broadway late Sunday, sweeping the board with 10 Tony Awards, the highest honors in American theater.
It was an extraordinary success for a quiet, contemplative, 90-minute production aching with longing for human connection and understanding, far removed from the brash commercialization of its competitors.
“Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” was the other big winner of the biggest night in Broadway, going home with six gongs, including best play from the star-studded 72nd annual Tony Awards.
Nominated eleven times, “The Band’s Visit” triumphed over “Mean Girls” and “SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical” — the two most nominated shows — for the prestigious best new musical prize.
“Our show offers a message of unity in a world that more and more seems bent on amplifying our differences. In the end, we are far more alike than different,” said producer Orin Wolf in accepting the award.
Its Arab-influenced score, spliced with klezmer, is the work of composer-lyricist David Yazbek, based on the book by writer Itamar Moses and directed by David Cromer. All three won Tonys.
Dialogue is in heavily-accented English, with smatterings of spoken Arabic and Hebrew, evoking the atmosphere of being in the Middle East.
While the Arab-Israeli conflict is never referenced, human connections forged through music and culture prove a bridge when the Egyptian musicians wind up in the wrong town owing to a pronunciation error.
“I am part of a cast of actors who never believed that they’d be able to portray their own races,” said Ari’el Stachel, an Israeli-American who won a Tony for his Broadway debut as Egyptian band member Haled.
“We’re getting messages from kids all over the Middle East thanking us and telling us how transformative our representation is for them.”
Katrina Lenk, who delivers a star turn as Israeli cafe owner Dina, and Tony Shalhoub as band leader Tewfiq, also took home Tonys.
Lenk dedicated her award to the Israeli actress who created the role in a 2007 film and to the famed late Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum.
Shalhoub paid tribute to his father and relatives who migrated to the United States from Lebanon, saying his award honored their aspirations, courage, resourcefulness, creativity and selflessness.
Hosted by singers Sara Bareilles and Josh Groban, the ceremony was a three-hour infomercial for Broadway largely avoiding all but discreet references to liberal America’s opposition to President Donald Trump.
That was until Robert de Niro won a standing ovation for twice using an expletive to refer to the Republican head of state.
Last year’s Tonys were anchored by the now disgraced Oscar-winning Kevin Spacey, whose career was ruined by sexual misconduct allegations as part of the #MeToo cultural watershed sweeping the United States.
On Sunday, Bruce Springsteen was given a standing ovation and delivered a rare televised performance after being honored for his smash-hit Broadway run, one of the hottest tickets in town.
Otherwise “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two,” written by English screenwriter and playwright Jack Thorne, led the way in a strong showing for British talent.
The play imagines the fictional boy wizard as a grown-up father of three, set 19 years after the events of J.K. Rowling’s seventh and final book, and which first opened in London in 2016.
At 82, British actress Glenda Jackson won her first Tony as best actress in a leading role in a play for “Three Tall Women.” Already a double Oscar winner, Jackson was for 18 years a member of parliament.
“Angels in America,” set against the 1980s AIDS crisis, won three Tony’s including for leading British-American actor Andrew Garfield and best revival of a play, for its transfer from the London stage.
The ceremony also saw British composer and musical impressario Andrew Lloyd Webber given a lifetime achievement award.


With Saudi roots and an Indian heart, Al-Kazi is an act the stage will never forget

Updated 21 February 2019
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With Saudi roots and an Indian heart, Al-Kazi is an act the stage will never forget

  • Though an icon in India, few people know about Al-Kazi’s Saudi roots

JEDDAH: India has always been a hub of art and culture. Over the last century, movies emerged as the most expressive cultural medium, and the Indian film industry — commonly known as Bollywood — has since become a powerhouse of world cinema.

One can never do its history justice without mentioning Ebrahim Al-Kazi.

A renowned director and drama teacher, he worked as the director of the prestigious New Delhi-based National School of Drama (NSD) from 1962 to 1977, teaching many well-known future actors and fellow directors, including Om Puri, Naseeruddin Shah and Rohini Hattangadi. He also founded the Art Heritage Gallery in New Delhi.

Though an Indian icon, however, few people know about Al-Kazi’s Saudi roots. His father, Hamad bin Ali Al-Kazi, was a trader from Unaiza in the Kingdom’s Qassim region, who subsequently settled in Pune, India, where Ebrahim was born in 1925. 

Early on in his career, Al-Kazi worked with the Bombay Progressive Artists Group, which included M.F. Husain, F.N. Souza, S.H. Raza, Akbar Padamsee and Tyeb Mehta, who would all later contribute to the design of his sets.

He worked in India, the US and Europe before becoming the director of the NSD, and later of the Asian Theater Institute, and is credited with staging more than 50 plays in his lifetime. He also contributes to the preservation of Indian cultural history through his Al-Kazi Foundation for the Arts.

In February 2015, Al-Kazi was honored at the second Saudi Film Festival in Dammam. He was later quoted in Arab media sources on his Saudi upbringing: “Our father was a firm believer in our cultural roots that went back to Saudi Arabia, and we spoke only Arabic at home. We had a teacher of Arabic and Islamic studies who came from Saudi Arabia, and lived as part of our family.

“Arab families (in India) did not mix very much with others, but my father had close ties with people other than Arabs,” he added.

Al-Kazi has also won many prestigious Indian awards. He was the first recipient of Roopwedh Pratishthan’s Tanvir Award in 2004 for his contribution to Indian theater, and in 1966 received the Padma Shri award. He won the Padma Bhushan award in 1991, and was given India’s second highest civilian award, the Padma Vibhushan, in 2010.