NFNM Show Update: The Band’s Visit

The Band’s Visit, written by David Yazbek and Itamar Moses (Fest ’12, Nobody Loves You), will receive its world premiere at Atlantic Theater this Fall, supported in part by a Production Grant from the National Fund for New Musicals. We reached out to Annie MacRae, the Atlantic’s Associate Artistic Director, and Itamar to learn more about the show’s history and this upcoming production. 

What is Atlantic’s history with new musical development? How does this tie into the theatre’s overall mission?
Annie MacRae: It is Atlantic’s mission to produce great plays simply and truthfully by utilizing an artistic ensemble. Over our 30-year history, commitment to this mission has led to some exciting new plays from Stephen Adly Guirgis’ Pulitzer Prize-winning Between Riverside and Crazy to Dominique Morisseau’s Skeleton Crew. At the same time, we’ve been working to build upon past world premieres like Patty Griffin’s 10 Million Miles and the iconic Spring Awakening to become a home for musical theater in NYC. In the past three years, we’ve developed and produced great projects like Martha Clarke’s reimagining of The Threepenny Opera and premieres of Found by Eli Bolin, Hunter Bell, and Lee Overtree and These Paper Bullets! by Billie Joe Armstrong and Rolin Jones. We’ve also produced several one and two-week workshops of musicals to help develop thrilling projects from the ground up.

What was the first inspiration for The Band’s Visit?

Itamar Moses: The project originated with our producer Orin Wolf, who acquired the stage rights to the film from Eran Kolerin, the filmmaker. He asked me to take a look at the film — which I’d heard of but never seen — and of course I loved it, because it’s great, and I immediately saw why Orin thought it might make a good stage musical. So then David Yazbek, who also saw the potential, and I were hired to do the adaptation.

How did Atlantic first get involved with the piece, and what developmental work have you done together since then?

IM: The Atlantic got involved shortly after I finished my first draft of the book. We did a reading there, relatively cold, of the script, and then I think played a recording of one song David had written for the piece. [Artistic director] Neil Pepe saw even then what we were after.
AM: Two years ago when producers Orin Wolf and Tom Hulce came to Neil Pepe with an early draft of The Band’s Visit to discuss the possibility of Atlantic developing and producing the musical, Neil immediately jumped at the chance. We have done a number of casual table reads of the script and recently produced a 29 hour workshop in July to further develop the musical as we head into rehearsal in October.

How has the relationship influenced the show’s development, and what has made Atlantic a great partner for the development of this piece?
IM: That early commitment — knowing we had a home for the piece when we felt it was ready — was extremely motivating. It’s a rare thing to have, but the Atlantic gave it to us. We’ve also done countless quick little readings there, just actors around the table, reading the script, to hear where we are at any given time.

What part of this story are you most excited to share with audiences?
AM: What excites me most about The Band’s Visit is the strength of the artists involved combined with the musical’s extraordinary, thought-provoking story. It’s uncommon to see a musical that deals with Arab-Israeli relations. At the same time, The Band’s Visit is not merely about political or religious issues. It gets underneath these issues to find humanity in both of these groups of people and explores what happens when they’re forced to come together in the name of love, music, or simple conversation. In doing so, we get to see relationships play out on an intimate, human level, creating a story that’s enlightening and moving.
IM: I think think that when people hear the show is about Egyptians and Israelis they might be expecting something overly political, big intellectual arguments, explicit fighting about borders, and history, and all the perennial conflicts of the region. What I love about this story is how subtle and understated it is. It’s really about human connection and how, even across cultures, there are certain things that are universal: love, music, the need to be understood. While at the same time the setting and characters make these themes hugely political…without having to address politics in any direct way. That’s my favorite thing about the piece and I hope what we’re able to convey.

Why should everyone buy their ticket to see The Band’s Visit this fall?
AM: Written by a great team of writers, The Band’s Visit is an exciting musical that crosses cultural genres and styles in its music. David has an extensive background as both a Grammy-nominated rock musician as well as a Tony-nominated theater composer. Now with The Band’s Visit, David fuses his rock, theater, and Middle Eastern backgrounds to create a truly fresh and unexpected score. Itamar is an ambitious, witty and smart playwright whose plays have entertained audiences at New York Theatre Workshop, Manhattan Theatre Club and Playwrights Horizons. With The Band’s Visit, Itamar has adapted this beloved film to the stage, making it his own while staying true to the charm, wit and surprise of the film. And to top it all off, The Band’s Visit is helmed by one of our most talented directors, David Cromer who has brought us many Off Broadway sensations including The Adding Machine, Our Town and Tribes. With his delicate touch, great humor and imagination, David Cromer is the perfect match for this material.

For more information about The Band’s Visit, visit Atlantic’s website.

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