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This Is Not a Review of “The Band’s Visit”

 This is not a review of the wonderful new musical at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, The Band's Visit. It can't be: The Band's Visit hadn't opened yet as of the time this article (not "review') is being written. Thus, what I witnessed this afternoon was a preview, albeit one that followed a long off-Broadway run last year and a month of previous previews. (In other words, the show, which opens Nov. 9, is probably fairly polished by now, but hey, who is to say for sure?) So this is not a review.

I will not, therefore, say that Katrina Lenk's leading performance is a miraculous blend of power and pathos and that she surely deserves a Tony nomination. I will not say that the quirky connection she builds with the laconic Egyptian band leader played by Tony Shalhoub seems destined from the start to be consummated and the fact that it isn't is one of this musical's greatest strengths: like Once, it leaves us with a feeling that there has been gain through the connections it has shown us but that no new bonds have necessarily been forged. I will not say that similar things play out throughout the tiny desert town of Bet Hatikva, with a B (not to be confused with the comparative metropolis of Peta Tikvah, with a P, as we are told repeatedly, though it is exactly that confusion that brings the band to this town in the first place). I will not mention the fact that tiny Bet Hatikva (highlights: the cafe and the apartments) somehow is home to enough quirky residents to populate a desert spinoff of "Northern Exposure." Nor will I mention that the awkward arrival of the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra merely adds that much more quirk to the town, along with a lot of music.

To do any of that would be to review the play, and of course I can't do that. All I saw was a preview. The fact that the preview contained some of the most inventive songs I've heard in ages—blending Arabic music with the more traditional sounds of Broadway will do that—and that the cast is full of wonderful singers is yet another thing I won't mention. Nor will I discuss the evolution of Lenk's character from a sassy cafe owner to someone who could bare her emotional soul to a man she hardly knows, revealing a memory from her youth that still stays with her:

Friday evening, Omar Sharif,
In black and white and blurry through tears.
My mother and I would sit there in a trance
He was cool to the marrow, the pharaoh of romance

I won't even discuss the various quirks of the characters, not even the kid who spends all of his time standing in front of a pay phone just in case his girlfriend might call. Nope. Won't do any of that.

What I will do is this: tell you that, if I were doing a review of The Band's Visit, it would surely be a green light. And I'll also tell you that, if you (unlike me) happen to be in New York City during the actual run of this show, you should do everything you can to take it in. It's worth it.

But I'd only do that if I were reviewing the show, and I'm not doing that.

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