The Band’s Visit: From film to stage, Broadway to Malta

Laura Bonnici chats with Israeli screenwriter and film director Eran Kolirin about the Malta premiere.
The Band’s Visit is both comedy and drama, the same thing looked at from different points of view. Photo: Elisa von Brockdorff

For a story that follows Arab musicians on a life-changing journey into the unexpected, The Band’s Visit has taken an equally unexpected and powerful journey of its own.

Written and directed by Israeli screenwriter and film director Eran Kolirin, The Band’s Visit began in 2007 as a film, receiving eight Israeli Film Academy awards and multiple others from international film festivals. It also won Kolirin the Israeli Film Academy’s awards for Best Director and Best Screenplay.

A decade later, The Band’s Visit became a musical, with a sophisticated score by David Yazbek and a book by Itamar Moses – each multi-award-winning. It opened in late 2016 to critical acclaim and a twice-extended sell-out run, twice breaking the all-time box office record on Broadway. The Band’s Visit has won 10 Tony Awards – and remains one of only four musicals in Broadway history to win Best Musical, Best Book, Best Score, Best Actor in a Musical, Best Actress in a Musical and Best Direction of a Musical.

And this May, The Band’s Visit will also arrive in Malta for the first time, in a new production by Revamp MT at Teatru Manoel.

“I find it very exciting that The Band’s Visit is soon to premiere in Malta,” says Kolirin.I feel privileged to have my story connecting with different place and cultures. I have never been to Malta, but I hope I’ll get the chance to visit and watch the show – and that the story finds a way into the hearts of Malta’s audiences too.”

In The Band’s Visit, members of the Egyptian police band head to Israel to play at the inaugural ceremony of an Arab arts centre, only to find themselves lost in a small desert town after an error in pronunciation. The Arab musicians and their provincial Israeli hosts discover their mutual love of music, whether traditional Middle Eastern ballads or American jazz and Chet Baker.

“Getting lost, liminal spaces and music are things that I really like in cinema,” Kolirin shares. “The Band’s Visit is both comedy and drama as actually, they are the same thing, looked at from different points of view. The tone just reflects my own point of view on life, which is somewhere between crying and thinking it is all just a bad joke.”

Director Dorothy Bezzina with writer Eran Kolirin.

Bringing Kolirin’s quietly powerful yet wonderfully human story to life in Malta is a cast of talented local performers, including Charles Sammut, Mark Tonna, Raphael Pace, Sean Borg, Ryan Grech, Neville Refalo, Francesco Nicodeme and Jamie Busuttil Griffin. Joining them on stage, live actor-musicians including George Curmi (Puse), Simon Abdilla Joslin, Godfrey Mifsud, Mark Alan Spiteri Stafrace and Michael Camilleri play various instruments as part of the action. Actor and director Dorothy Bezzina also leads the show’s creative team, with musical director Edward Mifsud and production manager Karl Borg.

To achieve the authentic dialects of the story, the cast has worked with speech and language consultant Roy Horovitz, a theatre director at Israel’s national theatre. “The Band’s Visit sings the praise of art and music’s power to bring people together across the divides that separate them,” says Horovitz. “The secret of its success, both in and out of Israel, seems to lie in its unassuming simplicity. It starts: ‘Once, not long ago, a group of musicians came to Israel, from Egypt… You probably didn’t hear about it. It wasn’t very important’. It nonetheless delivers a deeply humanistic message of mutual respect and of giving a place to the ‘other’. Is there anything of more ‘importance’?”

“I wish the world would be a little less ‘important’ and a bit more humane,” concludes Kolirin. “The Band’s Visit is about people, hope, love and what can be described as ‘the human condition’. As a musical, it is more intimate than the typical musical experience, using the music to evoke truth and emotion. This quietness is a rare virtue in the loud world in which we are living.”

The Revamp MT production of The Band’s Visit runs between May 6 and 14 at Teatru Manoel. This production was supported by Music Theatre International and Arts Council Malta. Tickets are available here, or via email to bookings@teatrumanoel.mt. For more Sunday Circle magazine cultural features check out a behind-the-scenes look at Rock The South festival 2023 or this interview with author Immanuel Mifsud.

Related Posts