Editor’s Note: Sasson Gabay, an Israeli actor, will be starring in the production of the Broadway musical, The Band’s Visit, at Knight Theater in Charlotte, August 6-25. A few weeks before their arrival, The Charlotte Jewish News spoke with Gabay, who will be recreating the role he played in the film in 2007. The conversation has been lightly edited for space and clarity.
What was your musical theater background before you became a film actor?
I’ve been in live theater for more than 40 years. I’ve also got a few musicals under my belt: I was Fagin in Oliver, Captain Hook in Peter Pan, and I’ve also been in The Threepenny Opera. I love to sing in theater and musicals, but in this show I have just one duet. Tewfiq does not do a lot of singing on the stage.
What was the transition from the film to the stage like for you?
Well, it’s been over 10 years since the film was released. But Tewfiq was in me all the time. The role really changed my professional life. When I heard in 2010 that Orin Wolf wanted to make this a musical, I thought it was crazy. When the production was ready to be cast, Orin contacted me again but I was already committed to a show in Tel Aviv. But when they needed a temporary replacement for Tony Shalhoub on Broadway, I accepted the offer. … [The character of] Tewfiq is really within me. I know him deeply.
As far as adjusting and readjusting from film to stage, you always have to be aware of how your audience perceives you. On film and television, the camera comes to you. On stage, you have to be the one who “adjusts the focus” and make the audience come to you. It’s your responsibility to attract them.
How is doing a road show different from being on Broadway?
We need to do full rehearsals first. We spent four weeks in rehearsal with the road cast and crew. After 327 Broadway shows, now with a new cast, I had to open my mind, all the cells in my brain, to see it differently. It’s the same show but at the same time it’s a different one. The process of doing rehearsals was different this time. And we are traveling with new members of the cast, it’s like a family. We have to spend a lot of time together. On Broadway, after the show, you go home. On the road, we stay together. But we are fortunate to have a wonderful cast and crew.
On top of everything else, like a fairy tale come true, my son has a part in this show. [Adam Gabay is playing the part of Papi in the production.] He just finished his army service but has been involved in the theater for a long time, including being on some TV shows. He came to visit me in New York and that was when there was a casting call for Israeli actors for the road show. So he auditioned and after several call-backs, he got the part. So for me, just coming to New York was like a fairy tale. And now I get to travel in the show with my son.
How are tour audiences different from the Broadway audiences? Are small town audiences aware of the political situation in Israel? Do you have a sense of how the story itself is perceived by in different part of the country?
We opened three weeks ago in Providence. Now we are in Washington for a month. These are the two venues up to now that I have experienced. On Broadway, I spoke to many audience members who had come from out of town. You don’t have to be from the Israeli culture, or the Arab culture, or the Egyptian culture in order to grasp and enjoy this play. It’s the story about two groups of strangers, foreigners to one another, who meet. It’s not a political thing. They are forced to spend one night together due to logistical errors. It’s about the dynamic of relationships. Every character finds some revelation, some transformation, some metamorphosis in his life. It’s not a big drama. Each one exposes himself, but I think everyone can identify with that. Sometimes when you meet strangers, like when you are abroad, you are more open to relationships with strangers than you are with people you know, people you spend your life with. This is what happened to these characters. Each one of them needed the other one to open his eyes to his own anxieties, pain, ambitions, hope. People from every background will enjoy it and take something from the story to benefit himself.
The world has changed a lot since the film was released. How do you think the story resonates with an audience today compared to how the film resonated in 2007?
I think it should be of more importance and more significance to tell this story today. When I think about 10 years ago, the world was less aggressive, less nationalist, less impatient towards different people or different societies. The world was more innocent 10 years ago than it is now, sadly. … But people still need this connection between each other, because we all share more or less the same problems, the same needs, the same frustrations, the same hopes, the same love. So this play, this material transcends time. It reflects something very simple and very essential in human behavior. It’s more important these days to remind people who we are, that we are all the same. Under our skin, we share so much, more than we realize.
Any final words?
I hope the audience will be open; open their eyes and ears and hearts, and they will go through a very special journey. It’s not a typical Broadway musical. It’s very delicate. After seeing it, I hope the audience will carry something in their hearts and bring it into their lives.
The Band’s Visit will be at Knight Theater August 6-25. Tickets are available at blumenthalarts.org or 704-372-1000.