I am not known for my love of musicals. I have enjoyed some of the classics immensely – Phantom of the Opera with my mum was amazing, for example – but others truly are a mystery. I have no idea how the hell Cats lasted longer than a week (it’s all about Memory, I suppose), and why, oh why, couldn’t everyone see that Mamma Mia was just ABBA songs, strung together by a plot so thin, it was pretty much transparent?
The think last straw came when I took the girls to see Little Women many years ago – get this – as a BIRTHDAY SURPRISE FOR EVA. It was so awful, and the theatre was so hot, and it went for so long, I can still vividly remember thinking that I might just burst into tears if they broke into song one more time…and not the good kind. No wonder she is putting her foot down here.
But, heck, I’m on Broadway, and I think that means I should see a show. Accordingly, I did some careful research.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? No.
Cats? *giggle* No.
Home for the Holidays? (a Christmas treat, starring the winner of The Voice, and some “YouTube sensations”). Ugh, an emphatic no.
Enter: The Band’s Visit, selected based on this review by my new favourite newspaper, The New York Times. The research told me it was a good choice, but, on the off-chance it turned out to be arduous, it was a very manageable 90 minutes long.
On my way, I stopped to take a picture of “Jerry Orbach Way”, to remind me to re-watch every single episode of NYPD Blue when I get home (and Sex and the City…and pretty much everything that is set in New York).
My seat wasn’t great, but it wasn’t a huge theatre either, so I wasn’t concerned. I was seated beside Estelle and Linda, with whom I soon began a conversation. Estelle, who looked to be in her eighties, had seen the show once already, and was there a second time in order to bring her daughter, Linda, who was visiting from Boston.
“You must know, it’s simply wonderful. I’m so happy to be seeing it again.”
(you really have to imagine this with loud, New York accents)
We were off to a promising start!
A grey-bearded gent (let’s call him Ed) soon stopped at the end of our row and announced loudly, whilst motioning towards us, “Someone is sitting in my seat. I’m supposed to be here, so someone must be in my seat”.
“Don’t you be angry. We won’t have any of that coming up here and being all angry.”
Estelle, it turns out, is a firecracker.
Ed’s seat was beside mine, and, wouldn’t you know it?, it was empty. In his defence, the theatre does have a nonsensical way of numbering the seats, so it gets confusing. Why they didn’t go with – I don’t know, how about numerical order? – is completely beyond me.
As he was getting seated, Estelle leaned over and said, “How’s he? Coming up here and getting all angry.” Then, a little more loudly, “You, are a very considerate person to sit next to.” Looking toward her daughter, “Isn’t she considerate, Linda?”
Then the back-and-forth battle for the tourist’s attention began, with Estelle on one side, and Ed on the other.
“Have you seen Home for the Holidays? You might like that one.”
“She won’t like that one. I didn’t like the one.”
“Where did you say you’re staying? It’s close to Studio 54.”
“Studio 54 is too big! You’ve got to have good seats in that one.”
“You’ve got to see Evan Hanson.”
“Yes, you’ve got to see Evan Hanson. THAT’S a good one.”
Evan Hanson was about the only thing they could agree on. New Yorkers can come across as far more aggressive that I think is intended, so it was a relief. Plus, they might have been competing to give me the best insider-Broadway advice, but don’t think for a second that either of them gave me an inch of armrest…I watched the whole show with my shoulders under my ears.
It didn’t matter, because The Band’s Visit was sheer perfection.
It is the story of an Egyptian band that is stranded for the night by mistake in a small village in Jerusalem. Nothing happens, other than a few people getting to know each other for a little while. It isn’t grand, or conspicuous, but it makes some beautiful, touching statements about life, precisely because it isn’t trying to.
Don’t even get me started on the music. The band members are all magnificent musicians, in their own right, and these Arabic-sounding strains waft throughout the entire play, from lutes and clarinets and violins, until you can’t separate the actors from the musicians. I am trying to remember if there was an orchestra as well and, to be honest, I can’t. I know there was music, because it was wonderful.
In one scene, a character is trying to explain the reasoning behind another’s unfinished piece of music, by comparing it to when he missed a birthday party as a child, whilst hiding in a tree. “Maybe it is like this for you,” he says, “maybe you are enjoying being up in the tree so much that you don’t want to come down to join the party.”
His wife then replies that he didn’t stay up in the tree because he liked it so much…he stayed up there because he was afraid to join the party. And it was easier to convince himself that he enjoyed being up in the tree, than it was to take the chance on coming down.
Yes. I had a moment. Tears were shed. Reflections on life were made.
When it finished, and a few audience members began to stand, Ed turned to me and said (in an emotion-charged voice), “Shall we? I think they deserve it”, and the four of us stood and clapped and cheered our hearts out.
I love being a part of a standing ovation.
After all was said and done, I went out with a plan, and not one thing went according to it:
1. Mood Fabrics, for gift buying: closed (my fault, I forgot it was Sunday)
2. High Line, seeing artwork and gift buying: closed, due to the snow
3. Russ & Daughters, for a bagel dinner: closed (but only because I mistakenly went to the deli, and didn’t realise the cafe was around the corner, and open until 10pm)
4. The Soup Man, as a close-to-home dinner backup: closed
You know, I have walked miles and miles on this holiday. Even if the subway all goes entirely according to plan (which, frankly, is rare), it’s just one 0.6 mile and 0.4 mile after another. And when you throw in the wrong subway exits (which can literally bring you to the surface 2 blocks away from where you want to be), and the 100m walks that are undertaken only to work out you’re heading in the wrong direction on the GPS, you’re covering a lot of ground.
Thankfully, much of it is pretty, and when you’re feeling uplifted, it’s as though you can walk forever.