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

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.


Highlights from Sotheby’s 20th Century Art sale in London

Sotheby’s will take place October 22 in London. (Supplied)
Updated 18 October 2019

Highlights from Sotheby’s 20th Century Art sale in London

Here are some highlights from Sotheby’s 20th Century Art/Middle East sale, which takes place October 22 in London. 

‘After The Rain’

Mahmoud Said

The famous auction house is billing this 1936 painting as “the most impressive example of Said’s landscapes ever to appear at auction” and predict it will fetch between $375,000 and $500,000.

Said is widely recognized as one of the most important figures in modern Egyptian art. His work combined elements of European art movements — from the Old Masters to post-impressionism — but retained a definite Egyptian feel, “capturing the Egyptian spirit during a time of intellectual renaissance.”

“After The Rain” was created during Said’s “Armana period,” and portrays an Egyptian countryside village — the backdrop to all of his paintings from this period — and another of his recurring motifs, a ripened palm tree. Sotheby’s particularly praises Said’s skill at “capturing the complexities of light to illustrate the depth of a sky as it is after rain — heavy clouds looming, yet with the hope of light and promise of sun,” and they way he uses the color of the sky to allude to the Nile — “his emblematic cobalt blue peppered with hints of turquoise and deeper, darker shades.”

‘Dodechahedron within an Icosahedron’

Dana Awartani

Sotheby’s expects this 2016 piece from the Palestinian-Saudi Jeddah-based artist to fetch around $25,000 at the auction. The wood, copper and glass sculpture — which Awartani created with craftsmen in Morocco — is an excellent example of how her works “gently fuse the lineage of Islamic craftsmanship, its motifs and tessellations with contemporary practice” and, the auction house says, “encapsulates her contemporary approach to the age-old spiritual appreciation of geometry … marrying the precarious with the perfect.”

‘Stardust’

Ali Banisadr

 

The hugely successful 43-year-old New York-based artist’s 2011 canvas is a typically striking display of Banisadr’s acclaimed technique. His work, Sotheby’s says “weaves together historical contexts — Islamic worlds meld with Medieval Europe with ease, and the gestural power of abstract impressionism is fused with battlegrounds from Persian miniatures.”

The auction house describes “Stardust” as “one of the most joyous works by the artist ever to appear at auction, the effervescent colors enveloping the viewer with a cosmic sense of harmony and serenity.” It is expected to fetch between $350,000 to $450,000.

‘Untitled’

Seta Manoukian

Manoukian’s 1987 oil painting is part of the auction’s ‘Armenian Diaspora’ section, which “takes a look at the unique and multifaceted Armenian artistic heritage.”

“Through exile and war, many artists preserved their culture, history and language,” the auction brochure reads.

Manoukian spent much of the Lebanese Civil War in Beirut before moving to Los Angeles, where she now lives as a Buddhist nun. This work, which Sotheby’s expects to fetch between $12,000 to $15,000, is a self-portrait created soon after her move to Hollywood and depicts the loneliness and confusion she was feeling at the time. One of the artworks on the wall in the painting is a small watercolor painted by fellow Armenian diaspora artist Aroutyun Vartanian in 1950.

‘The Stamp’

Abdulnasser Gharem

The Saudi army major and artist first conceived this large sculpture when his promotion led to him spend much of his time behind a desk stamping papers. On his website, Gharem explains that he was interested in how these stamps — “no matter how complex the logic that informed the thinking behind his decisions” — reduced everything to “a single stab, a binary ‘stamp’ or ‘no stamp.’”

He realized that, all across the Kingdom, every day, officials are slamming thousands of stamps down onto sheets of unrelated papers. “They articulate an unconscious and collective imprimatur, pronouncing what is right, what is acceptable, and which is the right path.”

The text on Gharem’s oversized stamp is short and to the point. “Have a bit of commitment,” it reads. Then, “Inshallah.” It is expected to fetch between $19,000 and $25,000 at auction.

‘Untitled’

Bahman Mohasses

The late painter and poet — sometimes referred to as ‘The Picasso of Iran’ — was known for the emotional power of his painting. His work in the 1960s, in particular, is disturbing and striking, offering, Sotheby’s says, a “host of dark, mythological characters used to express the anguish and despair of the huan condition.”

This oil painting from 1966 — expected to fetch between $150,000 and $225,000 — “encapsulates the artist’s unique ability to capture strength and vulnerability in the space of one canvas.”

‘Rhythmic Composition’

Saloua Raouda Choucair

The pioneering Lebanese abstract artist, who lived to the age of 100, was in her nineties before her work got any real exposure outside of Lebanon — becoming the first female Arab artist to have a solo show at London’s Tate Modern in 2013.

Choucair’s time in Paris just after the Second World War, absorbing the European avant-garde, informed much of her work. “Her aesthetic is shaped by, but not restricted to, Islamic geometry and calligraphy, colored with the daring palettes of her Parisian contemporaries and infused with the soft landscapes of Lebanon,” Sotheby’s explains. This 1949 work, estimated to be worth around $38,000 to $50,000, is the first of Choucair’s paintings to be available at auction.