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.


West End theater turns migrant camp to get London audience talking

Updated 20 June 2018
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West End theater turns migrant camp to get London audience talking

  • The Playhouse Theatre in London’s West End aims to immerse the audience in the squalid camp in the northern French port city of Calais that inspired “The Jungle.”
  • The immersive play offers a glimpse into life in the camp, telling the story of asylum-seekers, people smugglers and charity workers who used to populate it.

LONDON: London theatergoers used to spectating in comfort are in for a rude awakening after the authors of a play swapped the traditional plush velvet seating for wooden benches and covered the floor with soil to simulate the feel of a migrant camp.
The Playhouse Theatre in London’s West End aims to immerse the audience in the squalid camp in the northern French port city of Calais that inspired “The Jungle,” whose authors hope their play will stoke debate about migration.
“People often hold strong opinions about this subject because it doesn’t seem to have any immediate answer,” said Joe Murphy, 27, who co-wrote the play.
“Discussion is the only think that is going to get us forward ... and hopefully this play can provide some of that space for debate,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview.
Co-author Joe Robertson said the pair had “tried to depict both the terrible conditions that existed in the Jungle camp, but also the hope that existed in that place.”
Up to 10,000 people seeking ways to reach Britain used to live in the giant slum before it was cleared by authorities in late 2016.
Immigration remains a major political issue across Europe, as well as in the United States, where the Trump administration’s policy of separating migrant families at the Mexican border has caused an international outcry.
Several European leaders including those of France, Germany, Italy and Austria are to hold talks on Sunday to explore how to stop people from moving around the European Union after claiming asylum in one of the Mediterranean states of arrival.
Murphy and Robertson, 28, based the script on their experience as volunteers in Calais, where they ran a temporary theater within the camp.
The immersive play offers a glimpse into life in the camp, telling the story of asylum-seekers, people smugglers and charity workers who used to populate it.
“There were 25 different nationalities of people all forced to live side by side often on top of each other and the phenomenal story about that place was people did make an effort to come together,” said Robertson.
Theatre-goers are invited to seat at the tables of the camp’s makeshift Afghan café, where the action unfolds.
“The closer you are to the audience the better the message is delivered,” said actor Ammar Hajj Ahmad, who plays one of the leading characters.
Ahmad, from Syria, is one of many actors from a refugee background featured in the play. Several asylum-seekers the authors met in Calais are also part of the cast.
“I am proud of this, I love telling stories ... about the many people who lived in Calais,” said cast-member Mohamed Sarrar, a musician from Sudan who arrived in Britain two years ago.
The play, which premiered at another London theater The Young Vic, last year, runs from July 5 to November.