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Theater Review: The Band's Visit & Phantom of the Opera

Thursday, November 23, 2017 - 11:03

Just a few quick notes or they'll get lost in the vacation/holiday shuffle.

The Band's Visit is a layered, poignant, and sometimes funny show (taken originally from a real-life episode) of an Egyptian police department's traditional orchestra making a trip to give a goodwill concert in the Israeli city of Petah Tikva, but through a missed travel connection and linguistic confusion end up in the tiny desert village of Bet Hatikva instead. The bulk of the show takes place in Bet Hatikva as the orchestra members are offered hospitality while waiting for the next available bus and various personal encounters highlight both cultural differences and a sense of underlying unity. This isn't a story where anyone's life is dramatically changed or turned around. It's more about how the various encounters enable people to understand their own lives more deeply. I really enjoyed how the multilingual setting was presented, with both Arabic and Hebrew used conversationally (made understandable by context and the acting) while English was used both as an in-story lingua franca as well as the access point for the audience. It's easy to see why this has become a very popular show, both among critics and general audience.

I jumped at the chance to see Phantom of the Opera where Lauri has been subbing recently as house manager--so much for a relaxing retirement!. We got a personal backstage tour before the performance, which I always enjoy. I really enjoy the mechanics of spectacle productions like this, so it was fun to see how all the traps and sets worked. It was also interesting to see the differences in presentation from my previous experience in Las Vegas. (Of course, one of the big differences is that the Las Vegas dedicated theater was designed around the dramatic chandalier action, but it was still impressive in the smaller space.) The Broadway show is a bit longer, which seemed to come mostly from extended ensemble songs. (I love the structural concept of the ensemble counterpoint songs, but I can never actually understand what's being sung, so some of the effect is lost on me.) One dramatic difference--and I don't think it was a difference in the songs/lines themselves, but only in the performace--was that in the final confrontation there seemed less of an implication that Christine was genuinely torn between Raoul and the Phantom, and much more of a sense that she was putting on an act for Raoul's life. (And I still dislike Raoul using her as a pawn in the Don Juan gambit. I think she deserved to go on to a great career as an operatic soprano rather than ending up as a rescued damsel.)

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