In 'The Band's Visit,' beautiful things happen when people say 'yes'

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SCHENECTADY, N.Y. — Joe Joseph feels he has every actor's dream job. He has a major role in the national touring company of the musical "The Band's Visit," a show that plays Proctors New Year's Eve through Jan. 5. Joseph plays the young Haled, a man who has a gift for making women comfortable.

In a recent telephone interview the articulate Joseph made it clear he is dedicated to the actor's craft and is in love with the show. He says the national tour is providing him an experience he treasures, "I have an important role in a play that is introducing this beautiful work to audiences around the country."

He is especially pleased that many theaters like Proctors have a healthy subscriber-based audiences, that this year was given a boost by "Hamilton." Joseph points out that "People who bought a subscription because of 'Hamilton' get us as a bonus."

It's a bonus he is certain the audiences will appreciate. " 'The Band's Visit' is a beautiful play and a wonderful theatrical experience," Joseph said. "When I first saw it, I fell under its spell. But it's not your typical Broadway blockbuster. It's a show that is striking in its simplicity. When it's over, it seems like it never happened. It's almost ephemeral in its beauty and the magical way it engages an audience."

Nonetheless, he can't help wondering if the average ticket buyer would come to "The Band's Visit" without that subscriber incentive. "We are not a show with a lot of commercial appeal."

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Commercial success is measured by box office receipts. "Hamilton' has sold out every seat since it opened in 2015. "The Band's Visit," opened on Broadway in November 2017. It closed in April of this year playing 589 performances and 36 previews. A respectable run, but nothing if compared to "Hamilton."

If the box office is the arbiter of commercial success, the Tony Awards are a way of measuring quality. Using that measurement, "The Band's Visit" is right up there with "Hamilton," which won 11 Tonys in 2016. In 2018, "The Band's Visit" won 10. Each show won for Best Musical.

The plot of "The Band's Visit" has an Egyptian police band arriving for a concert in an Israeli village by mistake. They are stuck in the isolated desert town for the evening. The musical concentrates on how the band members connect with residents. Everyone's lives are touched, but it is doubtful that it is in a profound way. Says Joseph, "For most of the people in the play, the turning point in their lives have past. I think everyone returns to their same lives when the show is over."

But as he points out though there are few happy endings for the characters, this is not a depressing 90-minutes of theater. "It's about what can happen if one person says `Yes,' to a stranger. If someone smiles and says hello and is answered with a smile and a hello, a connection is made," Joseph said. He sounds a bit proud of Haled when he says, "My character is the first person to say `Yes.'"     

"The Band's Visit" is adapted from an Israeli film of the same name, which starred Sasson Gabay as Tewfiq, the band's conductor. Joseph says he is delighted that Gabay, who assumed the role on Broadway after Tony Shalub left the show, is starring in the national tour. Gabay's son, Adam Gabay, is also a member of the cast playing Papi, a villager who is awkward with women. He and Joseph have some charming moments together at a roller rink.

Not only does Joseph respect both men as actors, he is enjoying touring the United States with international performers who are seeing the country for the first time. He says, "Every day I am reminded of the power of theater to connect people from every walk of life, and the beautiful things that can happen when strangers say, 'Yes.'


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