Keith Tomasek, Oct. 1, 2019
When “The Band’s Visit” comes to town don’t miss the opportunity to see the fabulously talented Chilina Kennedy.
Broadway goers recognize Kennedy from her leading roles in “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” and “Jesus Christ Superstar.” On TV she’s performed at the Tony Awards, and alongside Aretha Franklin at the 2015 Kennedy Center Honors to celebrate the Carole King.
In “The Band’s Visit” Kennedy plays Dina, the charismatic café owner who generously arranges lodging for a band that’s stranded in her small town, which the the townspeople believe to be dull, blasé and lacking in culture.
“The Band’s Visit” is one of four musicals in Broadway history to win the unofficial “Big Six” Tony Awards, which include Best Musical, Best Book, Best Score, Best Actor in a Musical, Best Actress in a Musical, and Best Direction of a Musical. It won the 2019 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album.
I had the opportunity to see the production in Toronto and loved it. My wife and I lived in the Middle East for three years, and the show brought back many fond memories of the kindness we experienced from people in the region.
I had the chance to ask Chilina Kenndy a few questions about the production:
1) The director, David Cromer, doesn’t usually direct musicals. How was his approach to “The Band’s Visit” different from what you’ve experienced previously?
In rehearsals for our production of “The Band’s Visit,” we were asked to throw away a lot of traditional musical theatre rules and habits. This isn’t your typical kind of musical – there are no big show stoppers or glitzy effects. The show relies entirely on the story and the relationships between its characters. Often we are asked to take away affectations and simplify what we are doing. Stillness is our friend.
Thank you! I’ve loved that song since I first heard it and I love performing it every night. There is a subtle and intimate connection between Tewfiq and Dina that starts to really take shape during that scene. It’s the first time they really connect in the show, and it is powerful in its simplicity. I love the colours that have started to take over my voice and the Middle Eastern sounds the band makes.
3) Speaking about culture…when writing about “The Band’s Visit” in the Chicago Tribune, Chris Jones noted: “…this is the rare musical that understands that although the international enmity that dominates our tawdry collective time on this planet mostly is cultural, most of us actually live in towns with hardly any culture at all.”
This is sadly true. But many of us have artists inside of us and are thirsting for culture. It’s our responsibility to find it and create it. The most beautiful art and music can be born out of the most drab and lonely places of the world.
Growing up as an army brat, you rarely lived in one town for more than four years.
Yes it was lonely but I also learned a lot about the world and different cultures. It taught me a lot.
4) How did culture, local or otherwise, bring you together with strangers in those towns?
I always had music and dance. My mother would find the local dance studio and I would take lessons. I would also sing with a choir and take piano lessons. Art always brings people together, no matter how different they are.
5) Sasson Gabay, one of international cinema’s, and theatre’s, most respected actors plays opposite you. He is joined on stage by his son Adam Gabay, who at age 21 is already receiving international acclaim. How does it feel working with a father-son team?
It’s the sweetest thing – something I hope one day I will do with my son Henry. On certain nights, I see Sasson watching Adam from the wings and my heart melts. Their mutual love and support are inspiring.
6) As well as being an actor, you are the artistic producer of a new theatre company in Toronto, Eclipse Theatre, whose mandate includes fostering and generating artists through education, collaboration, diversity and outreach. What can we look forward to from Eclipse?
Our artistic director, Evan Tsitsias and our general manager, Brett Haynes and I are very excited about all of our upcoming projects.
We love to reimagine existing musical theatre pieces but fostering and creating new and relevant work is probably the most exciting part of our mandate. We also enjoy partnering with other theatre companies. Look for the continued development of my new show, with Eric Holmes, “Call It Love” and a concert production of “Sunday In The Park With George.” Currently, we are partnering with Crow’s Theatre on “Ghost Quartet” on stage Oct. 5!
The Band’s Visit
Ed Mirvish Theatre, Toronto
September 17 to October 20.
Click for tickets and details
Call the box office: 1-800-461-3333