By Lynn Venhaus

Simple yet profound, “The Band’s Visit” is a disarming, charming experience.

It may take a little bit to win you over, but it certainly does – with an invigorating elegance and its big heart, a great example of effective less-is-more on stage.

Based on a 2007 film, “The Band’s Visit” is not your average flashy big-budget spectacle, and that’s one reason it’s so refreshing and relatable. The story is about ordinary people, their hopes and desires to belong. They just happen to be considered “enemies” because of where they live – Arabs and Jews – but are they really that different?

Through a bus station-cultural language miscommunication, a traveling Egyptian Police Band winds up stranded in a small town in the Negev desert — Bet Hatikva instead of Petah Tikvah. They are supposed to perform at an Arab cultural center, but another bus is not available until the next day, so, residents take them in overnight. They share shelter, meals, music and conversation over the course of one day.

The winner of 10 Tony Awards – and nominated for 11 – in 2018, this musical, now playing at The Fox Theatre in St. Louis until March 8, conveys what made the off-Broadway show and its move to Broadway such sensations. It is one of only four musicals in Broadway history to ever win “The Big Six” – musical, director, composer, book, actor and actress – at The Tonys.

The staging is innovative, and turntables are used effectively, especially during a roller-rink date scene. Humor is key too, as in the park having one bench.

Besides endearing performances from its first-rate cast, the music and lyrics by David Yazbek are unforgettable. The dynamic, poetic world-music score, with jazz influences, features an assortment of memorable songs – starting with the humorous “Waiting” and “Middle of Nowhere,” and wrapping up with the haunting “Answer Me.”

Make sure you stay after the curtain call for the band’s upbeat finale, their ‘concert’ performance.

The cast recording won a Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album in 2019, and they won a Daytime Emmy Award for a performance of “Answer Me” on The Today Show.

The Fox Theatre is one of the 32-city stops on the first national tour, which began June 25, 2019. “The Band’s Visit” played off-Broadway for a little more than a year, beginning Dec. 8, 2016, and moved to Broadway Oct. 7, 2017. After 589 performances and 36 previews, it closed April 7, 2018.

Combined with book writer Itamar Moses’s witty script, “The Band’s Visit” emphasizes connection between people and different cultures – if we all listen to each other.

While the townsfolk desperately want to find meaning in their lives, we are moved by those universal themes of longing, loss and loneliness that everyone relates to – and how music is the thread that unites us all.

And what simple kind-hearted gestures and compassion can mean in times of need. This humanistic approach is how it captivates the audience. After all, people who need people are the luckiest people in the world, Barbra Streisand once sang to Omar Sharif in “Funny Girl,” — and a song is named after the Egyptian-born 1960s movie star here.

The ensemble features 14 people, and the tight-knit company is adept at conveying bonding and breaking barriers. Janet Dacal is terrific as a lively Dina, a lonely café owner whose tough and feisty demeanor masks a heart of gold. She befriends the band’s conductor, Tewfiq Zakaria, played by Sasson Gabay, who replaced Tony winner Tony Shalhoub on Broadway and originated the role in the 2007 movie.

As he becomes more comfortable, he shares a personal tragedy with her. Their relationship throughout the show is a high point.

Also noteworthy are Joe Joseph as the likable trumpet player Haled, who loves American jazz musician Chet Baker; Danny Burgos as the timid café worker Papi, who Haled helps out on a date; and Pomme Koch as the other café worker Itzik, who brings clarinet player Simon home to dine with his family and they deal with his crying baby.

Known only as the “Telephone Guy,” Mike Cefalo is funny in a quirky role, and then shows off a beautiful voice when he starts off “Answer Me.”

The highly skilled band musicians must be mentioned too, because they add such a vitality to the show: Adrian Ries, conductor/keyboard; Adam McDonald, associate conductor/keyboard; Tony Bird, violin; George Crotty, cello; Evan Francis, clarinet, saxophone, flute; Roger Kashou, darbouka/riq; Ronnie Malley, oud/guitar; Shai Wetzer, drums/Arabic percussion; and Alex Farha, musician swing.

In small and subtle moments, this pleasant interlude speaks volumes. And that poignancy in a tidy 90-minutes is a life-affirming way to exit the theater and enter a wary world.

The Fox Theatre presents “The Band’s Visit” Feb. 25 through March 8 at the Fabulous Fox, 527 N. Grand. For tickets, visit www.metrotix.com or call 618-534-1111. For more information, visit www.fabulousfox.com

By Lynn Venhaus
A 10-time Tony winner’s national tour comes to the ‘Lou, world premieres of “The Roommate” and last chance to see a whole roster of shows. There is a feast of choices as we usher March in, and spring can’t be far behind. Here’s what’s on local stages.


“Annapurna”
St. Louis Actors’ Studio
The Gaslight Theatre
N. Boyle Ave., St. Louis
Thursday – Saturday at 8 p.m.
Sunday at 3 p.m.
Feb. 14 – March 1
www.stlas.org
314-458-2978

Laurie McConnell and John Pierson star as Emma and Ulysses in Sharr White’s play about love and loss in the backdrop of the Colorado Rockies. Once married, they have a child, but haven’t seen each other for a long time.

Our review:
https://www.poplifestl.com/oh-those-ties-that-bind-an-extraordinary-annapurna-at-st-louis-actors-studio/

The Band’s Visit touring show

“The Band’s Visit”
Fox Theatre
527 N. Grand
Feb. 25 – March 8
www.fabulousfox.com

Winner of 10 Tony Awards, including Best Musical in 2018, this joyously offbeat story is set in a remote town where a band of musicians arrive, lost. They bring the town to life in unexpected ways. This is an adaptation of a 2007 Israeli film, with music and lyrics by David Yazbek. It is performed without intermission.

Here is our review: https://www.poplifestl.com/unforgettable-music-big-heart-distinguish-tony-winner-the-bands-visit-at-the-fox/

“The Ever After”
Curtain’s Up
Saturday, Feb. 29, at 6:30 p.m.
Dunham Hall, SIUEdwardsville
www.curtainsuptheater.com

A cheesy talk show host invites familiar fairy tale characters who have been estranged for 20 years to reconcile on the show.

Brett Amber


 “Flanagan’s Wake”
Emery Entertainment
The Playhouse at Westport Plaza
635 Westport Plaza
Jan. 24 – March 21
www.playhouseatwestport.com

This interactive hit show from Chicago is set in an Irish pub, and Flanagan’s family and friends give him a comedic memorial with plenty o’ pints, crazy sing-a-longs and witty tales.
Cast includes Brian Ballybunion, Fiona Finn (Jennifer Theby-Quinn), Mickey Finn Father Damon Fitzgerald (Patrick Blindauer), Kathleen Mooney, Mayor Martin O’Doul

Our review: https://www.poplifestl.com/flanagans-wake-a-raucous-raunchy-ribald-romp/

“Ghost”
Metro Theatre Company
Feb. 2 – March 1
Fridays at 7 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m.
The Grandel Theatre
3610 Grandel Square
www.metroplays.org

World premiere of a new play adapted by Idris Goodwin from Jason Reynolds’ award-winning bestseller for young readers. Castle Cranshaw, aka “Ghost,” has only known running, but he runs for all the wrong reasons until he meets Coach. Directed by Jacqueline Thompson and stars

“Men on Boats”
The Performing Arts Department at Washington University
Feb. 21 – March 1
Edison Theatre on campus
pad.artsci.wustl.edu

John Wesley Powell’s expedition down the Green and Colorado rivers is a 19th century journey.

“The Mystery of Irma Vep”
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
Feb. 14 – March 8
Loretto-Hilton Center on the Webster University campus
www.repstl.org

One dark and stormy night…two actors play eight characters, with a few dozen costume changes, a lot of wigs and a blending of classic horror, B-movie mysteries and farce.  
Charles Ludlam’s supernatural comedy includes a newly revived mummy, a mysterious portrait, a family curse and a howling werewolf.

Our Review: https://www.poplifestl.com/campy-farce-irma-vep-cant-hold-audience/

“The Office! A Musical Parody”
Emery Entertainment
March 4 – 8
Wednesday-Friday at 8 p.m.
Saturday at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Sunday at 2 p.m.
The Grandel Theatre
Tickets: Metrotix 314-534-1111 or one hour before showtime at Grandel box office.
www.theofficemusicalparody.com/tour

Dunder Mifflin is opening an office near you. This is the third North American tour of the unauthorized off-Broadway show, written by Bob and Tobly McSmith. It is still playing at the Jerry Orbach Theatre at 210 West 50th Street in NYC.

Mashable calls it “the world’s most elaborate inside job, created with a whole lot of love, just for fans.” It’s a typical morning at Scranton’s third largest paper company until, for no logical reason, a documentary crew begins filming the lives of the employees.

“Picnic”
Webster University’s Conservatory of Theatre Arts
Feb. 20 – March 1
Thursday and Friday at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
Sunday at 2 p.m.
Stage III Auditorium
www.webster.edu
314-968-7128

William Inge’s play is set in a small town one Labor Day Weekend in the joint backyards of two widows. One lives with her two daughters and a boarder; the other is a woman and her mother. A studly young man, Hall, comes to town, and the resulting electrical charge causes some friction.

Photo by John Lamb


“The Roommate”
The West End Players Guild
Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.
Sunday at 2 p.m.
Additional Thursday show Feb. 27 at 8 p.m.
Feb. 21 – March 1
Union Avenue Christian Church
733 N. Union at Enright
www.westendplayers.org
314-367-0025

St. Louis premiere of Jen Silverman’s contemporary comedy has been described as “The Odd Couple” meets “Breaking Bad.” Sharon, a divorced empty nester takes on a roommate in her Iowa City house – and Robyn has come from the Bronx. She has a mysterious, shady past who moves around a lot. She is everything Sharon is not — a vegan and gay, for starters. They begin to influence each other in surprising ways.

“Saint Joan of Arc”
The University Theatre at Saint Louis University
Collaborative piece with Prison Performing Arts
Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m.
Sunday at 2 p.m.
Feb. 21 – March 1
Kranzberg Arts Center
501 N. Grand
Tickets: www.metrotix.com

Inspired by love of God and country, Joan became a 15th century French military leader. This is a contemporary retelling directed by Lucy Cashion.

“Spell #7”
The Black Rep
Wednesday at
Feb. 19 – March 8
A.E. Hotchner Studio at Washington University.
www.theblackrep.org


Ntozake Shange’s Spell #7 is a choreopoem set in a bar in St. Louis frequented by Black artists and musicians, actors, and performers. In a series of dreamlike vignettes and poetic monologues, they commiserate about the difficulties they face as black artist.


“Transluminate”
A short-play festival
The Q Collective
Thursday and Friday, Feb. 27 and 28, at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, Feb. 29, at 4 and 7:30 p.m.
Sunday at 4 p.m.
The Chapel
6238 Alexander Drive
www.theqcollective.theater

“The Vagina Monologues”
St. Louis College of Pharmacy
Friday, Feb. 28 at 7 p.m.
Academic and Research Building Auditorium
4531 Children’s Place, St. Louis, MO 63110
Tickets: $5 at the door (cash only) or available for purchase on Eventbrite ahead of time

Note: All proceeds from ticket and dessert sales will go directly to Lydia’s House in St. Louis

Eve Ensler’s play is based on interviews with more than 200 women. With humor and grave, the piece celebrates sexuality and strength. Through this play and the liberation of this one-word, countless people throughout the world have taken control of their bodies and their lives.

The play gave birth to V-Day, a global activist movement to end violence against all women and girls. Activists are working to end harassment, rape, battery, incest, female genital mutilation and sex slavery. (https://www.vday.org/homepage.html)

It is sponsored by the Department of Liberal Arts and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. For more information, email [email protected]

Lydia’s House works in faith to end domestic violence by being a place of healing and a voice of hope for abused women and their children.” (https://www.lydiashouse.org/)

The Fabulous Fox Theatre brings the Best of Broadway to St. Louis with the announcement of the 2019–2020 U.S. Bank Broadway Series, including four new musicals that will make their St. Louis debuts. The seven-show season ticket package is headlined by pop culture phenomenon DEAR EVAN HANSEN. The season opens with the winner of four Tony® Awards including Best Revival of a Musical, HELLO, DOLLY!. Get ready to dance into 2020 with SUMMER: THE DONNA SUMMER MUSICAL,followed bythe 2018 Tony® Award Winner for Best Musical, THE BAND’S VISIT.  Embark on a mesmerizing joyride through a world of pure imagination with Roald Dahl’s CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY.  The memory lives again when CATS, the record-breaking musical spectacular, comes to St. Louis in April and HAMILTON returns to close out the season for a limited five-week engagement! The season also features seven series specials that will include St. Louis’ most “popular” musical WICKED. 

HELLO, DOLLY! | October 1-13, 2019

Winner of four Tony® Awards including Best Musical Revival, HELLO, DOLLY! is the universally acclaimed smash that NPR calls “the best show of the year!” and the Los Angeles Times says “distills the mood-elevating properties of the American musical at its giddy best.”DirectorJerry Zaks’ “gorgeous” (Vogue) new production is “making people crazy happy!” hails The Washington Post. Afterbreaking box office records week after week and receiving unanimous raves on Broadway, this HELLO, DOLLY! is now touring America, paying tribute to the original work of legendary director/choreographer Gower Champion – hailed both then and now as one of the greatest stagings in musical theater history. Rolling Stone calls it “a must-see event. A musical comedy dream. If you’re lucky enough to score a ticket, you’ll be seeing something historic. Wow, wow, wow, indeed!”

DEAR EVAN HANSEN | October 22 – November 3, 2019

The much anticipated DEAR EVAN HANSEN, winner of six 2017 Tony® Awards including Best Musical and the 2018 Grammy® Award for Best Musical Theater Album, is coming to St. Louis this fall.  A letter that was never meant to be seen, a lie that was never meant to be told and a life he never dreamed he could have, Evan Hansen is about to get the one thing he’s always wanted: a chance to finally fit in. DEAR EVAN HANSEN is the deeply personal and profoundly contemporary musical about life and the way we live it.  DEAR EVAN HANSEN has struck a remarkable chord with audiences and critics everywhere, including The Washington Post which says DEAR EVAN HANSEN is “one of the most remarkable shows in musical theatre history.” The New York Times calls it “a gut-punching, breathtaking knockout of a musical.” And NBC Nightly News declares the musical “an anthem resonating on Broadway and beyond.” DEAR EVAN HANSEN features a book by Tony Award-winner Steven Levenson, a score by Grammy®, Tony and Academy Award® winners Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (La La Land, The Greatest Showman), and direction by four-time Tony Award nominee Michael Greif (Rent, Next to Normal).

SUMMER: THE DONNA SUMMER MUSCAL | January 15-26, 2020

She was a girl from Boston with a voice from heaven, who shot through the stars from gospel choir to dance floor diva. But what the world didn’t know was how Donna Summer risked it all to break through barriers, becoming the icon of an era and the inspiration for every music diva who followed.  With a score featuring more than 20 of Summer’s classic hits including “Love to Love You Baby,” “Bad Girls” and “Hot Stuff,” this electric experience is a moving tribute to the voice of a generation.  SUMMER: THE DONNA SUMMER MUSICAL takes us through Donna Summer’s tumultuous life, tempestuous loves and mega-watt musical hits. Spend the night in her electrifying universe.

THE BAND’S VISIT | February 25 – March 8, 2020

Spend an evening in the company of unforgettable strangers at THE BAND’S VISIT—now one of the most celebrated musicals ever with ten 2018 Tony® Awards including Best Musical. And now it’s also a Grammy Award® winner for Best Musical Theater Album. THE BAND’S VISITrejoices in the way music brings us to life, brings us to laughter, brings us to tears, and ultimately, brings us together.  In an Israeli desert town where every day feels the same, something different is suddenly in the air. Dina, the local café owner, had long resigned her desires for romance to daydreaming about exotic films and music from her youth. When a band of Egyptian musicians shows up lost at her café, she and her fellow locals take them in for the night. Under the spell of the night sky, their lives intertwine in unexpected ways, and this once sleepy town begins to wake up.   

Roald Dahl’s CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY | March 17-29, 2020

Roald Dahl’s amazing tale is now St. Louis’ golden ticket! It’s the perfect recipe for a delectable treat: songs from the original film, including “Pure Imagination,” “The Candy Man,” and “I’ve Got a Golden Ticket,” alongside a toe-tapping and ear-tickling new score from the songwriters of Hairspray.   Willy Wonka is opening his marvelous and mysterious chocolate factory…to a lucky few. That includes Charlie Bucket, whose bland life is about to burst with color and confection beyond his wildest dreams. He and four other golden ticket winners will embark on a mesmerizing joyride through a world of pure imagination. St. Louis audiences will experience the wonders of Wonka like never before – with Oompa-Loompas, incredible inventions, the great glass elevator, and more, more, more at this everlasting showstopper!

CATS | April 7-19, 2020

CATS, the record-breaking musical spectacular by Andrew Lloyd Webber that has captivated audiences in over 30 countries and 15 languages, is now on tour across North America! Audiences and critics alike are rediscovering this beloved musical with breathtaking music, including one of the most treasured songs in musical theater—”Memory”. Winner of 7 Tony Awards® including BEST MUSICAL, CATS tells the story of one magical night when an extraordinary tribe of cats gathers for its annual ball to rejoice and decide which cat will be reborn. The original score by Andrew Lloyd Webber (The Phantom of the Opera, School of Rock, Sunset Boulevard), original scenic and costume design by John Napier (Les Misérables), all-new lighting design by Natasha Katz (Aladdin), all-new sound design by Mick Potter, new choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler (Hamilton) based on the original choreography by Gillian Lynne (Phantom) and direction by Trevor Nunn (Les Misérables) make this production a newCATS for a new generation!

HAMILTON | May 5 – June 7, 2020

HAMILTON is  the  story  of  America’s  Founding  Father  Alexander  Hamilton,  an  immigrant  from the  West  Indies  who  became  George  Washington’s  right-hand  man  during  the  Revolutionary War  and  was  the  new nation’s first Treasury Secretary. Featuring a score that blends hip-hop, jazz, blues, rap, R&B, and Broadway, HAMILTON is the story of America then, as told by America now.  With book, music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda, direction by Thomas Kail, choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler and musical supervision and orchestrations by Alex Lacamoire, HAMILTON is based on Ron Chernow’s biography of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton.

Series Specials

Seven Broadway specials will be offered to 2019–2020 season ticket holders for priority seating before their public on-sale dates.

The party starts with Jimmy Buffett’s ESCAPE TO MARGARITAVILLE October 18-20, the musical comedy featuring both original songs and your most-loved Jimmy Buffett classics. See what all the noise is about with STOMP November 15-17, now celebrating 25 years in New York City. CIRQUE DREAM HOLIDAZE lights up the Fox stage with its popular and electrifying holiday stage spectacular November 29-30. St. Louis’ most “popular” musical WICKED returns for the holidays December 4-29.JERSEY BOYS will take you from the streets of New Jersey to the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame January 30-February 2. RIVERDANCE comes back to St. Louis with a powerful and new 25th Anniversary production February 14-16. Back by popular demand, the Pulitzer Prize and Tony® Award winning show RENT continues to speak loudly and defiantly to audiences February 21-23.

New seven-show season ticket packages will go on sale May 8 at 10 a.m. Current U.S. Bank Broadway season ticket holders will receive their renewal information the week of March 18. On-sale dates for individual shows will be announced later. For more information, please call the Fox Subscription office at 314-535-1700. Groups of 10 or more should call 314-535-2900 for special rates and reservations. The Broadway Series at the Fabulous Fox Theatre is presented by U.S. Bank.

2019 – 2020 U.S. Bank Broadway Series Shows and Specials:

(The Seven Season Ticket shows are in bold)

HELLO, DOLLY! * October 1-13, 2019

Jimmy Buffett’s ESCAPE TO MARGARITAVILLE * October 18-20, 2019

DEAR EVAN HANSEN * October 22 – November 3, 2019

STOMP * November 15-17, 2019

CIRQUE DREAMS HOLIDAZE * November 29-30, 2019

WICKED * December 4-29, 2019

SUMMER: THE DONNA SUMMER MUSICAL * January 15-26, 2020

JERSEY BOYS * January 30 – February 2, 2020

RIVERDANCE New 25th Anniversary Show * February 14-16, 2020

RENT 20th Anniversary Tour * February 21-23, 2020

THE BAND’S VISIT * February 25 – March 8, 2020

Roald Dahl’s CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY * March 17 – 29, 2020

CATS * April 7-19, 2020

HAMILTON * May 5 – June 7, 2020

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Megan Ketcherside