When asked to describe the plot of The Band’s Visit, Katrina Lenk is stuck for words. “It’s about two different cultures who ordinarily might not help each other out,” she begins, then pauses.
David Yazbek and Itamar Moses’ new musical, directed by David Cromer, tells the story of an Egyptian police band, who, after a mix-up at the border, find themselves stranded overnight in a village in the middle of the Israeli desert. With no bus or hotel in sight, the band members seek the help of the locals.
Lenk reconsiders: “It’s about people who are broken in different ways,” she continues. “And when they meet in this strange circumstance, they set little things off in each other that wake them up in ways that might not have happened had this coincidence not occurred.”
In The Band’s Visit—currently playing at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre—Lenk plays Dina, the brisk owner of a café who forms a tentative connection with one of the band members, a charming, gentle widower played by Tony Shalhoub.
“I love how human it is. How straight-forward, simple, and not full of filigree,” she says. “They’re so real, these moments. There’s not an explosion of anything—but these beautiful, bittersweet moments of connection.” For Lenk, this is not only what makes The Band’s Visit so special, but also what makes it true to life.
“A huge realization can come from a tiny, mundane event,” says the actor. It’s about “little events leading to big, emotional events.” Similar to how the show has changed her own life. “I had no idea that it was going to turn into anything like this,” says Lenk, who originated the role in the world premiere Off-Broadway at Atlantic Theater Company last year, and later starred on Broadway in Indecent. The Off-Broadway production was a sold-out hit and immediately sparked rumors of a commercial transfer.
A year later, the musical has finally arrived on the Main Stem, and Lenk is able to reflect on the ways in which the show has impacted her. The actor recently went on a trip to Israel with some of the show’s creative team and cast to visit the town that inspired the original 2007 Israeli film. While there, they watched the movie that had in turn inspired the musical.
“To sit there and hear them laugh in the same way that we would laugh… It was an example of two very different cultures watching something and connecting over it in the [same] way that in the show, people connect,” she explains. “We’re all just people. We all just want to enjoy our lives and love and be loved. Again, here’s a little mundane thing happening—people sitting and watching a film. But then you’re having all of these thoughts and feelings; and just like in the show, nothing is happening but everything is happening.”