A musical of possibilities

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WHAT happens when an Egyptian police band ends up in the wrong town in Israel and has no way to leave before morning? Strangers change each other’s lives with a whole lot of singing.

Atlantis Theatrical Entertainment Group opens its 2020 performance season with The Band’s Visit on March 13 at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium in RCBC Plaza, Makati City.

Based on the 2007 Israeli film of the same title, the musical premiered on Broadway in 2017 to great critical acclaim. Set in 1996, the story follows the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra that arrives in Israel to play a concert. However, there is a mix-up at the border when they are sold bus tickets to the isolated dessert town called Bet Hatikva instead of Petah Tikva City where they are scheduled to perform at the local Arab cultural organization. With no bus available until morning, the travelers are welcomed by the locals into their homes.

“I have to always remember the acceptance speech of Bong Joon-Ho for Parasite: ‘Once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films’,” playwright, actor, and singer Rody Vera said, referring to the award-winning director’s acceptance speech for Best Foreign Language Film at the 77th Golden Globes.

’Yun yung nangyari sa akin (That’s what happened to me) when I first watched this film,” he said, since the movie and the musical based on is in Arabic and Yiddish. “It [will take] a while for you to find out what’s going on but then once you get into it, ang ganga-ganda ng kwento (the story is so nice).”

Mr. Vera is making his debut in an Atlantis production playing the role of Tewfiq Zakaria, the quiet leader of the band.

With music and lyrics by David Yazbek and a book by Itamar Moses, the musical won 10 of its 11 nominations at the 72nd Tony Awards including Best Musical, Best Book, Best Score, and Best Direction of a Musical.

At a press launch on March 4 in Tomas Morato, Quezon City, the actors explained that they had to take Arabic and Yiddish language classes in preparation for their roles.

“It has to be distinct,” Niño Alejandro, who plays the widower Avrum, told the press. “There is a difference between the Jewish and the Arabic [accent].”

Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo, who takes the role of café owner Dina, explained that the songs in the musical require “not so much beautiful singing” which meant no vibratos.

“We were not allowed to sing with vibratos because we had to take on the way the Arabs and Isrealis sing,” she said, describing that the style was “not very Western, everything [is] forward, and almost spoken.”

“A lot of what happens to the show is unsaid. It’s in the silences. It’s the possibilities of what could have happened if they didn’t leave or what changed in their lives after they left,” she said.

“It is so profound. It wasn’t earthshaking, but it changed them,” she said.

The musical is directed by Atlantis’ founder, Bobby Garcia. Also in the cast are Mark Bautista, Reb Atadero, Steven Conde, Maronne Cruz, Rhenwyn Gabalonzo, Jep Go, Leanne Mamonong, Jill Peña, Bibo Reyes, Dean Rosen, and Floyd Tena.

The story, said Ms. Lauchengco-Yulo, is about possibilities and how encounters can affect one’s life.

The Band’s Visit runs from March 13 to 29 at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium in RCBC Plaza, Makati City. Tickets are available through TicketWorld (, 8891 9999). — Michelle Anne P. Soliman