“The Band’s Visit,” winner of 10 Tony Awards and the 2019 Grammy Awards winner for Best Musical Theater Album, is coming to Hampton Roads Oct. 29 – Nov. 3.
A part of the SevenVenues Broadway in Norfolk series, the musical tells the story of a band of musicians who accidentally visit a small town in the desert and bring it to life with charm and beautiful music.
Actor Adam Gabay, who plays Papi, one of the townspeople, was kind enough to talk with us about the show.
Tell us about Papi and how you got the part.
The year is 1996 and Papi is a shy teenager living in the isolated desert town of Bet Hatikva, Israel where the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra from Egypt comes accidentally to perform. Papi is living in the middle of nowhere and has a huge problem talking to girls. Haled, one of the younger Egyptian band members, tries to help Papi overcome his shyness with girls. This is just one example of how the band’s visit affects the people of the town.
I am 21 years old and Papi is 19-20. My father, Sasson Gabay, who originated the role of Tewfig in the film that this musical “The Band’s Visit” is based on and also played the same part on Broadway and now in this tour, we were having dinner one night with Ari’el Stachel, who played Haled on Broadway in “The Band’s Visit” and won a Tony for this show. Ari’el is like my big brother and he said to me, “Adam you look like Papi, you are the character. You are Israeli, about the same age as Papi, you should audition for that part.” So I took his advice, asked to audition, met with the director Andrea, I auditioned and a couple of weeks later I was told I got the part.
That had to be such an amazing feeling when you got that news.
Yes, it was crazy, especially knowing that here in America there are thousands of actors trying every day to get parts, I feel so lucky, thankful and grateful. It’s amazing to be in this play.
Why should people come see this play?
The Band’s Visit talks about politics, love, life, fears, ambitions and about things that all people no matter where you are from, experience in life. The play is in English, but we also talk in Hebrew and Arabic and the music is simply amazing. It includes a lot of Middle Eastern-style music that perhaps will be heard for the first time by an American audience. It is an amazing opportunity to introduce America to the Middle Eastern culture in a positive way. So please come and listen and discover a new world about our traditions and lives.
Tell us about your early life. Where were you born and why did you decide to go into the entertainment field?
I was born in Tel Aviv, Israel in 1998. My father Sasson Gabai, is an actor and my mother Dafna Halaf Gabai, is a writer who among other things, wrote an Israeli version of Sesame Street. From the time I was born I was surrounded by artists, actors, musicians, and so on. At the age of six, I was accepted to the School of Arts in Tel Aviv. In the 10th grade I went to the High School of the Arts in Tel Aviv as well. All my life I knew, this is what I wanted to do. Along with my regular classes I would take six hours of theatre and then I would start to get booked in some projects in Israel. While I was in the military, I also was able to work on film projects.
After two years and eight months, I completed my military service, got out in March, and in May I moved to New York.
Can you talk a little about your military experience?
I was in the Israeli Defence Force of the army as an army reporter and I was a spokesperson for my cyber unit. I was also able to act while in the army because the army allows those artists who are excellent in their craft to continue to work while still in the army. I worked on two different series. I completed my time by the end of March this year, I moved to New York in May and by the end of June I began to work in the National tour of “The Band’s Visit.”
Is this the first time you have acted with your father?
I played his son in a TV show in Israel that my father was the lead. My part was a recurring role but I was not in it every week. For me, it was a couple of episodes each season.
What is it like to be acting with your father in this play?
It is amazing!! First it’s a great opportunity. We are doing this every day and sometimes I catch myself and say, “Oh my God, this is so crazy. It’s amazing that both of us are touring all over the US in an amazing, amazing, amazing play, with great, incredible people who are Tony and Grammy winners.” Especially for me, I am so young, and we are doing this together. We are experiencing this as partners. Sometimes while we are in the wings backstage we will talk about different things like: how the audience is responding that day or my scene. You know my father is one of the best actors in the world in my opinion. He is a master in his craft. He is a teacher. To work with him on stage and to do the rehearsal time with him in New York, it was the biggest lesson I ever had.
We also get to do things together as a family. We were in Toronto, Canada last week and my father, mother and I and some of the other actors in the play, we went to Niagara Falls. .
Tell us about a wow moment in your life.
I can tell a lot of stories of people I have met, movies and TV shows I have been in, moments in the play, but for me, I have my wow moment every night when the play ends and we take our bows. To hear that applause from the audience who appreciates what we have done, applauding for me, that is the craziest moment for me. The little kid inside of me from Israel does not believe he is getting a standing ovation.
How about a pivotal moment, something that happened that changed your life forever?
When I was three years old my father and I did a show about Hanukkah in my kindergarten class. My father was the chief and I was the sous chief and we are making Hanukkah food. Everything gets very messy with flour on our face and water everywhere. It was funny. I was three years old and I remember all the kids were laughing and clapping their hands. I felt that something, I liked that feeling and I knew I wanted to do this all the time.
For more info, go to https://www.sevenvenues.com/events/detail/the-bands-visit
Yiorgo is a Hampton Roads arts, entertainment and sports writer. A stage, TV and movie actor, he is also an educator, motivational speaker, writer, storyteller and columnist.