Interview with Sasson Gabay and Chilina Kennedy of The Band’s Visit

THE BAND’S VISIT tells a story, set in a town that’s way off the beaten path, of a band of musicians who arrive lost, out of the blue. Under the spell of the desert sky, and with beautiful music scenting the air, the band brings the town to life in unexpected and tantalizing ways. Even the briefest visit can stay with you forever. With a Tony- and Grammy-winning score that seduces your soul featuring talented onstage musicians, THE BAND’S VISIT rejoices in the way music brings us together. On stage now in Toronto for the Canadian Premiere at the Ed Mirvish Theatre until October 20, 2019.

Chilina Kennedy & Sasson Gabay in The Band’s Visit North American Tour. Photo by Matthew Murphy

Reprising the role of “Tewfiq”, which he originated in the 2007 film the musical is based on and then played again in the musical on Broadway, is the award-winning Israeli film actor Sasson Gabay. Joining him for the tour in the role of “Dina” is critically acclaimed actress Chilina Kennedy, a star of musical theatre both in Canada and on Broadway and famous for her brilliant portrayal of the title character in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.

The Israeli star of stage, TV, and screen, Sasson Gabay recently received the Lifetime Achievement Award for his contribution to Israeli cinema at the Israeli Film Festival. Gabay is one of the most respected and outstanding actors in Israeli film with work spanning five decades, including some of Israel’s most popular and critically-acclaimed films as well as international hits such as Rambo III, Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem, Delta Force One: The Lost Patrol and The Band’s Visit (Israel’s top-grossing film in the US).

Chilina Kennedy is known for her role as “Carole King” in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical on Broadway. She has starred as “Mary Magdalene” in Des McAnuff’s Broadway revival of Jesus Christ Superstar and headlined many productions around the world including, the first national tour of Mamma Mia!, Atlantic Theater Company’s This Ain’t No Disco and three seasons at the Stratford Festival, including “Maria” in Gary Griffin’s West Side Story.

Chilina Kennedy & Sasson Gabay in The Band’s Visit North American Tour. Photo by Matthew Murphy

We had the opportunity to chat with both actors here in Toronto…

Tell us about your characters?

Chilina: I play Dina who is a cafe owner in the small town of Beit Hatikva. I don’t think Dina is totally satisfied with her life in a small town. She wanted to be a dancer and thought if she had moved to a big city she would have been successful. But now she runs this little cafe and she’s just waiting for something exciting to happen and it does. That was the arrival of the Egyptian band.

Sasson: I play Tewfiq, the conductor of the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra who came to visit Israel. Because of some mispronunciation instead of ending up in a big city, we end up in this small remote town. He decides along with Dina to stay and spend the night with her. He’s reserved and is old fashioned in his way of thinking. He carries some pain from his past. He’s also going through a journey with Dina.

Chilina: Dina also suffers through loneliness and pain so the two of them connect on that level.

The story is about human connections, right?

Chilina: That’s just it. I think it is about human connections. It could be a story about conflict and the differences between these two very different cultures but it’s not. It’s a story about connections and music is the third language. All of these characters have changed for the better throughout the show and it’s because the Israelis are changed for the better by the Egyptians and vice-versa. They are all better for it by the end of the show.

Sasson: Yes, there are differences but there’s something in common as human beings. They need each other. They have the same background, same desires, and the same necessities of life. They overcome obstacles and discover how much we are all alike.

Chilina: The music really helps as a common thread.

Sasson: The art is connecting between them and there is a connection with the music for many people from many backgrounds.

Sasson, you’ve worked on this musical on film as well as on stage. What do you love about performing this on stage?

Sasson: I was in love with the character in the film. When Eran Kolirin who wrote the script and directed the film approached me and summed up the character I immediately knew the character and felt a connection. He also resonated with my father’s way of speaking and thinking so I found many similarities with my private life to the character. The film was kind of miracle because it was a low-budget film that was shot in 24 days. It was very special and beautiful but we didn’t expect such a great response from the audiences from both commercial success in Israel and critical success around the world. After 10 years, I was offered to perform it on Broadway to take over Tony Shalhoub. Although I’ve done a lot of films I also enjoy being a stage actor. The best fulfillment is that connection with a live audience. Of course, stage acting takes another technique. But each night the contact with the audience is something that I love and need. Also, there are songs by David Yazbek in the stage production that were not in the film.

The band's visit
The company of The Band’s Visit North American Tour. Photo by Matthew Murphy

There was an actor who had worked on the production on Broadway that described this musical as “feeling like home.” What does this musical mean to you?

Sasson: I think our daily lives are so demanding and vibrant. We have to be successful and sharp and this musical is the contrary for the audience. It is that, the feeling of home. They can be themselves. They don’t need to be heroes or superheroes or artificial. You just need to open your heart and your mind. With little effort, we all can connect to this story.

Chilina: Right, it’s not a big showy bells and whistles kind of piece. It’s real people, with real issues and real feelings of loneliness that everybody shares. It’s heartbreak but also joy and connectedness. The mundane becomes beautiful. It’s those things that we all do every day but take for granted. This is not a big broad brushstroke kind of show. It’s very sophisticated and layered and that’s what I really love about it.

Sasson: It also shows the weakness of people and it’s very funny. Everyone can find themselves sometimes feeling stranded or lonely.

Chilina: It’s surprisingly funny.

It’s not really about the two cultures ultimately, the musical transcends cultural differences and people will find this story relatable regardless of race and culture?

Chilina: I think that’s the beauty of it, yes. It’s not about the culture but about that thing that brings us together and connects us. It’s about humanity.

Sasson: It overcomes language barriers as well. In the show, we speak English, Hebrew, and Arabic and we are communicating without sometimes not knowing what the words mean. It’s salvation through art and music for people. I wish we all lived in a world of art.

Chilina: And the music is there to help you. Everybody connects through some form of art.

What is your favourite song in the musical?

Chilina: Omar Sharif. It’s such a beautiful piece. I was moved the first time I heard it. Performing it every night – it’s beautiful but it’s also such a connection between Dina and Tewfiq. I love doing this with Sasson because we have this connection just in general throughout the show but specifically in that number. It’s the first time these two people come together.

Sasson: I love the one Chilina mentioned, I love it and I love listening to it. But my favourite song to listen to is by my son Adam, who is also in the show and is 21 years old. I love listening to him sing “Papi” from backstage. There are so many songs and we are always humming them not because we are doing the shows but because they are just so beautiful.

THE BAND’S VISIT, winner of 10 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, plays through October 20 at the Ed Mirvish Theatre. For more information visit www.mirvish.com

 

 

Sonya Davidson
About Sonya Davidson 597 Articles
Born and raised in Toronto, this city girl covers the latest in arts, culture, food, and style. She also shares interesting stories about Toronto's people, places, and things. Follow @theculturepearl on Instagram and Twitter.