How does a short indie film from 2007 evolve into an award-winning Broadway musical a decade later? Itamar Moses, who wrote the book for The group visitrecount CityBeat how this musical was born. The musical’s tour will take place at the Aronoff Center for the Arts for a week-long engagement starting July 19.
Moses says he received an email from a set of producers in 2014 asking him to consider adapting the film’s script about an Egyptian group stranded in a remote town in Israel. He had worked on a few musicals and knew collaborating with a creative team could be difficult. But legendary director and producer Hal Prince was part of the project, giving Moses an incentive.
“With Hal involved, I decided to go to the meeting,” Moses said.
Moses’ parents were from Israel, where the film was a big hit, and he had visited the area several times.
“I saw right away why they thought it was [a musical adaptation] would work,” he recalls. “There was a small cast of characters, mostly having conversations in rooms. It’s a band, so there’s a very organic reason to have music. And it’s about trying to communicate across cultures with different languages. Music can be a metaphor for breaking through barriers. I felt like I was the person to do it.
Moses’ interest gained momentum when award-winning composer David Yazbek was considered. Eventually, Yazbek signed on to officially become the musical’s composer. His string of believable hits — The full Monty (2000); Dirty rotten villains (2005), and Tootsie (2019) — increased the likelihood of success. Moses says that in a phone conversation with Yazbek, he made it clear that he didn’t want to turn the show into an extravagant production.
“I wanted it to stay small and quiet, very understated,” says Moses. “David said all the same things I thought: Keep it small, weird, elegiac, poignant. We really talked about why we thought it might work.
The film version of Eran Kolirin in 2007 The group visit was inspired by a story about the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra, made up of Egyptian musicians who take the wrong bus and arrive at Bet Hatikva, a remote Israeli settlement, rather than Petah Tikva, where they had been hired to play at the opening of an Arab cultural center concert. Another bus won’t come for 24 hours, so the musicians have to stay overnight. Under the spell of the desert sky with beautiful music scenting the air, the band brings the city to life in unexpected and enticing ways.
Yazbek has developed an enticing score for a show that offers deep insights as musicians and townspeople intersect — especially Tewfiq, the band’s fierce and aloof manager, and Dina, the de facto social director of the city. town. They seem to be on a trail to potential lovers, but they relate awkwardly. A common connection eventually occurs as they sit in a cafe talking about the music of Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum and movie star Omar Sharif, whom Dina and Tewfiq look up to. Dina sings a magical song, “Omar Sharif”, about her memories of those Arab performers on radio and television growing up in Israel.
Moses says translating a movie into a musical can be a challenge.
“We don’t have the camera power to convey emotion with close-ups and slow pans across a desolate desert landscape to draw viewers’ attention to a small object on a table,” he explains. he. “That’s where music and songs come in. A song is like an emotional close-up. People reveal themselves and their feelings when they sing.
For the musical version of The group visit, Moses brought together two moments from the film when the never-married Dina and the lonely Tewfiq share their memories of Kulthum and Sharif. Moments of connection between Arab musicians and Israeli city dwellers highlight shared human longings for life, love and loss.
The unassuming show opened at the 200-seat off-Broadway Atlantic Theater in late 2016. To rave reviews, it moved to the 1,000-seat Barrymore Theater on Broadway a year later. There, the show – that the New York Times called an “honest to god musical for adults” – garnered more positive reviews and had 589 performances through April 2019.
The group visit is one of four musicals in Broadway history to win the unofficial “Big Six” Tony Awards – Best Musical, Best Book, Best Score, Best Actor in a Musical, Best Actress in a Musical and Best Direction of a Musical. His cast recording won a 2019 Grammy and a tour began in 2019. Following a COVID-19 hiatus, he’s on the move again, including this engagement in Cincinnati.
Interestingly, Tewfiq, played on Broadway by familiar TV actor Tony Shalhoub (who won a Tony for his performance), is now played by Sason Gabay, who originated the role in the 2007 film. Moses points out that there is a sort of “meta-layer” in Gabay’s performance.
“Tewfiq’s story is of someone who thought his last chance at love was over, and now he has a second chance. It’s similar to what happened with Gabay who returned to the role years later,” says Moses.
Why did this unusual, small-scale show do so well? Moses suggests it was initially because it opened on Broadway immediately after the tumultuous 2016 presidential election.
“With all the rhetoric around immigration and crossing borders, a lot of people were craving a story about welcoming strangers,” Moses says. “Foreigners can enrich everyone’s life!”
That enthusiasm continued even after the COVID break from touring, Moses says.
“People always react intensely. Now it’s more about feeling isolated, from everything we’ve felt during the pandemic,” Moses says. “The ice starts to melt when you get to connect with people after the trauma we’ve been through. That message was inherent in the film, and we were able to adapt it in a way that speaks to the pain or trauma of almost any moment.
“The antidote is always human connection, caring for each other, opening hearts,” he continues. “Our show conveys that in a way that doesn’t feel judgmental or sentimental. That’s why people respond to it.
The band’s tour, presented by Broadway in Cincinnati, runs July 19-24 at the Aronoff Center for the Arts, 650 Walnut St., downtown. Information: cincinnatiarts.org.
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