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NY Theater Reviews

Katrina Lenk and Sasson Gabay/ Ph: Evan Zimmerman

DESERT SONG

By JEREMY GERARD

As the Best Musical continues to soar, Sasson Gabay brings a different take to the role of Tewfiq.

The ingredients have been altered, but the chemistry still intoxicates as The Band’s Visit heads into its second year on Broadway, intimate, sensuous and charming as ever. Based on Eran Kolirin’s 2007 film about an Egyptian orchestra stranded overnight in an Israeli town hardly bigger than a desert outcropping, the show won 10 Tony awards in June, including Best Musical. And it’s made a star of Katrina Lenk, who plays Dina, the owner of the café where the musicians alight.
 
New to the show is Sasson Gabay as Dina’s opposite, Tewfiq, the band’s leader. The Israeli actor brings something special to the role. (He played Tewfiq in the film.) Where Dina is a tantalizing combination of world-weary and dreamy, sultry and tart (especially as Lenk continues to present her), Tewfiq is proper, guarded and somewhat officious. Tony Shalhoub, who played him until he had to return to his duties as the father of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, brought his signature warmth and emotional transparency to the role.
 
Sasson presents a tougher nut for Dina to crack, and that has different rewards. This Tewfiq will let his guard down – beginning with the show’s breakout number, Dina’s “Omar Sharif,” and continuing through their song together, “Something Different” – but never quite entirely. Like Shalhoub, Sasson is no singer, but composer David Yazbek makes few demands of Tewfiq, while book writer Itamar Moses gives him a deeply humane transformation.
 
Yazbek’s gorgeous score, with its transfixing accents of klezmer and Arab instrumentation and melody, is the rare one that grows on me the more I hear it. David Cromer’s sensitive staging reaches a haunting climax with “Answer Me,” a ballad that begins as a mournful chant (beautifully sung by Adam Kantor) that builds to a soaring chorale you take with you from the Barrymore. It’s with me still.