‘The Band’s Visit,’ based on Israeli film, wins best musical in Tony sweep

Bands Visit

NEW YORK — The shimmering musical “The Band’s Visit,” based on Israeli film of the same name, was the big winner at the Tony Awards on Sunday, capturing the best musical award and nine other prizes.

“The Band’s Visit,” about an Egyptian band that accidentally winds up in a dusty Israeli backwater, won awards for best direction, leading actor, leading actress, orchestration, sound design, original score, best book of a musical, lighting and featured actor Ari’el Stachel, who gave a heartfelt speech about his Israeli-American heritage.

“For so many years of my life I pretended I was not a Middle Eastern person,” he said, addressing his Israeli-Yemeni father and Ashkenazi New York mother in the audience. He thanked the creators of the show “for being courageous for telling a small story about Arabs and Israelis getting along at a time that we need that more than ever.”

He added: “I am part of a cast of actors who never believed that they’d be able to portray their own races, and we’re doing that.”

The show’s director, David Cromer, said the musical is also about loneliness and despair, and asked everyone to reach out to anyone for whom “despair is overwhelming.” The show had garnered 11 nominations.

“In ‘The Band’s Visit,’ music gives people hope and makes borders disappear,” producer Orin Wolf said upon accepting the best new musical crown, saying it offers a message of unity in a world that “more and more seems bent on amplifying our differences.”

Tony Shalhoub won as best leading man in a musical for his work on “The Band’s Visit,” connecting the win to his family’s long history of immigration from Lebanon, and the show’s Katrina Lenk, who won best actress in a musical, said the production “filled her stupid little heart with so much joy.”

In the show, Shalhoub plays the stiff leader of the Alexandria orchestra, who ends up opening up to an Israeli cafe owner played by Lenk.

The show centers on members of an Egyptian police orchestra booked to play a concert at the Israeli city of Petah Tikva but accidentally ending up in the drowsy town of Bet Hatikva in the Negev desert. Over the next few hours, the townspeople and the musicians learn about each other and themselves.

Before rehearsals for the Broadway production, Lenk traveled to Israel and visited Yeruham, the town that inspired the story.

Reviewing the show in November, The Times of Israel’s Jordan Hoffman wrote that “Though certain aspects of the film can never be replaced, like the deadpan imagery in some of its cinematography and the marvelous performance by Sasson Gabai, the stage version takes a small cinematic curiosity and enlarges it to something bold and unforgettable.”

Jewish actor Andrew Garfield won his first Tony, for best leading actor in a play, for playing a young gay man living with AIDS in the sprawling, seven-hour revival of Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America” opposite Nathan Lane. He won his third, for best featured actor in a play.

Garfield dedicated the win to the LGBTQ community, who he said fought and died for the right to love. He said the play is a rejection of bigotry, shame and oppression.

“We are all sacred and we all belong,” Garfield said. He then referenced last week’s US Supreme Court decision which ruled in favor of a baker’s right to deny a gay couple a wedding cake based on his beliefs.

“(Let’s) just bake a cake for everyone who wants a cake to be baked,” he said, to rousing applause. Lane said the play still speaks to society in the midst of “political insanity.”

The two-part spectacle “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” captured six awards, including best play, book, lighting, sound design, orchestrations and director John Tiffany, who asked the crowd to sing “Happy Birthday” to his boyfriend. They obliged.

In a mesmerizing moment, Melody Herzfeld, the heroic drama teacher who nurtured many of the young people demanding change following the February school shooting in Parkland, Florida, was honored from the Tony Award stage.

Herzfeld, the one-woman drama department at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, was cheered by the crowd at Radio City Music Hall. Herzfeld saved 65 lives by barricading students into a small classroom closet on Valentine’s Day when police say a former student went on a school rampage, killing 17 people.

She then later encouraged many of her pupils to lead the nationwide movement for gun reform, including organizing the March For Our Lives demonstration and the charity single “Shine.” Members of Herzfeld’s drama department took the Tony stage to serenade her with “Seasons of Love” from “Rent.”

And in a sign of the times, the crowd went wild as Robert DeNiro swore at US President Donald Trump.

In other wins, Glenda Jackson added to her impressive resume with a Tony Award for best actress in a play for her work in a revival of Edward Albee’s “Three Tall Women.” That show also yielded the featured actress win to “Rosanne” star Laurie Metcalf.

Billy Joel gave his friend Bruce Springsteen a special Tony Award. “This is deeply appreciated, and thanks for making me feel so welcome on your block,” The Boss said. Later, Springsteen will perform “My Hometown” on the piano from his sold-out one-man show.

Co-hosts Josh Groban and Sara Bareilles kicked the show off with a self-parodying duet on piano for all the losers out there — including them.

Neither Bareilles nor Groban have won a Grammy or a Tony despite selling millions of albums and appearing on Broadway. They turned that into a playful song.

“Let’s not forget that 90 percent of us leave empty-handed tonight. So this is for the people who lose/Most of us have been in your shoes,” they sang in the upbeat opening number. “This one’s for the loser inside of you.”

Two of the shows going into the night with the leading number of nominations — Tina Fey’s “Mean Girls” and “SpongeBob SquarePants,” with 12 nods each — found the night tough. “Mean Girls” won nothing and “SpongeBob SquarePants” got only one for best set design.

The revival of “Carousel” won two awards — choreography and for Lindsay Mendez, who won best featured actress in a musical. She accepted in tears, recounting that when she moved to New York, she was told to change her last name to Matthews or she wouldn’t work. She said she was happy to be in a production that “celebrates diversity and individuality.” To all artists out there, she said: “Just be your true self and the world will take note.”

One of the show highlights was the lively performance by the cast of “Once on This Island” that included a sand-filled beach, real water and a goat. Onstage guests were volunteers and staffers from three organizations that bring relief to areas impacted by natural disasters.

Getting buzz from appearing on the telecast can dictate a show’s future, both on Broadway and on tour. Broadway producers will be thankful this year that the telecast won’t have to compete with any NBA Finals or Stanley Cup playoff games.

For most of the previous awards season, shows like the Oscars and Golden Globes have acknowledged the issue of sexual misconduct and abuse of power. The Tonys didn’t specifically address that, but did touch on gun violence, depression, politics and inclusion.

The show was a sort of victory lap for a Broadway season that saw grosses hit another record high by pulling in $1.7 billion — up 17.1 percent over last season’s $1.45 billion. Attendance was also up, coming in a 13.79 million, an increase of 3.9 percent at last season’s 13.27 million.