Egyptian band in Israel musical wins big on Broadway
A heart-warming musical about an Egyptian band visiting an Israeli desert town triumphed on New York's Broadway late on Sunday, sweeping the board with 10 Tony Awards, the highest honours in American theatre.
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 commercialisation of its competitors.
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 honoured their aspirations, courage, resourcefulness, creativity and selflessness. (AFP)