Inclusion, representation, and cultural authenticity are top of mind in today’s entertainment space, and now, this conversation is front and center on the Broadway stage. The Band’s Visit celebrates diversity and authenticity through its music, language, characters, cast, and aesthetic. Based on the same-titled 2007 film, The Band’s Visit follows a group of Egyptian musicians as they mistakenly arrive at a remote Israeli town instead of the Arab cultural center for which they were booked. With no transportation or hotel options, they spend the evening with hospitable locals, forging meaningful connections.
Show creators and producers prioritized authenticity from the outset. In fact, a pre-rehearsals trip to Israel (including a stint in Yeruham, the small town the show is based on) informed the overall approach. Watch the video above for more on how this visit influenced cast and creatives.
Here, we asked Sharone Sayegh (Anna), composer David Yazbek, and scenic designer Scott Pask to share just how The Band’s Visit prioritizes authenticity from their unique perspectives. Read on, and be sure to catch the show yourself.
Sharone Sayegh, Cast (Anna)
On representing her background:
I grew up speaking Hebrew and a little Arabic at home. The sounds of my father playing the oud and my family singing shabbat songs were a big part of my upbringing. As I got older and my love for theater grew, I started to feel like I had two very different sides to my life: On one, I had my Israeli/Iraqi family and on the other, I had my American friends and American musical theater. It wasn’t until I moved to NYC to pursue a career in theater that I realized that the way I looked, the texture of my hair, the shape of my eyes and nose, my name — everything about me and my cultural background — would so deeply affect the opportunities I had as an actor.
The Band’s Visit is the first Broadway musical that has given me the opportunity to portray my own ethnicity. It’s my first time speaking Hebrew on a Broadway stage, the first time I don’t feel like I have to work in spite of my ethnicity, or the way I look, or my name. In fact, I feel like all of these things are finally an asset to the show I’m performing in, and the role I’m playing.
On opening night, I knew it would be incredibly special for my parents to sit in the audience and watch me fulfill my dream of originating a Broadway role. What overwhelmed me even more was thinking about them as immigrants making countless sacrifices and spending their lives ensuring that my sisters and I had everything we needed in order to succeed. At that moment, they were watching me succeed by representing them. I was representing our people and our culture; they were seeing themselves for the first time on a Broadway stage. And, I was doing so in a show about real people with real stories — not about stereotypes of Israelis and Arabs.
David Yazbek, Composer
On crafting an authentic score:
I was excited about the opportunity to live with this type of music and these kinds of flavors while I was writing the score. [Regarding cultural research for the score], I’ve always been a fan of Middle Eastern and North African music – Arab classical songs, Sufi sacred music. I was happy to immerse myself in the Sufi poetry of Rumi and Hafez, reminders that connection is all that anyone longs for: connection with each other, connection with everything around you. You can meet a stranger and you can be playing music with them, and if it’s clicking, it’s extremely intimate.
I think that’s what audiences are getting from the show. They’re watching the characters and they’re watching them trying to connect … The last song is called “Answer Me,” and it’s absolutely about that longing. Then, at the end of the show, there’s this wordless explosion of joy and union among these great musicians who truly respect each other and love each other and play together night after night. When you see this in person you can’t help but be part of it. When you leave the theater I like to think you really feel that connection.
Scott Pask, Scenic Designer
On attention to detail:
It was important for me to convey the seemingly endless and ever-present horizon line, the feeling of isolation, and the textures of the Israeli desert terrain where our story is set. Within that I wanted to create an architecture and an atmosphere that is specific to its community and culture. Each location and its details have a very precise tone and identity. Even the payphone is accurate for our region and time period.
I collaborated with Arabic and Hebrew language and culture advisors to ensure that each aspect of the design onstage, from signage to the set decoration, was authentic. The most meaningful compliments that I have received have been from people who grew up or spent time in towns like the one I created onstage, saying that the set reminded them distinctly of home.
*These interviews have been edited and condensed.
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