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The Desert Sessions

The Broadway musical tour of “The Band’s Visit” comes to the Altria.

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From foreign accents to juggling, the demands put upon a theater performer can be unique at times, but for Coby Getzug, getting cast in the Broadway tour of “The Band’s Visit” meant doing something he hadn’t in ages: don a pair of roller skates.

“I hadn’t done that since I was 10-years-old,” says Getzug, reached by phone last month from his apartment in Brooklyn. “I had a roller-skating birthday party literally when I was 10, and I think that’s the last time I had roller skates on. That was a fun thing to relearn.”

Roller skating isn’t the only distinctive feature of “The Band’s Visit.” Adapted from a 2007 film of the same name, the musical tells the story of an Egyptian orchestra that, because of a misunderstanding, ends up in an isolated Israeli desert town instead of the city where they are scheduled to perform. With no more buses scheduled for the following day, the band is taken in for an evening by the town’s residents and romantic sparks fly, including at a roller-skating rink.

The Broadway production of “The Band’s Visit” was nominated for 11 awards at the 2018 Tony Awards and took home 10, including the unofficial “Big Six” awards of Best Musical, Best Score, Best Book, Best Actor in a Musical, Best Actress in a Musical and Best Direction of a Musical.

"The show is about connecting across cultural differences and language barriers, and, primarily through music, finding common ground,” says Getzug, a native of Los Angeles whose previous credits include the Broadway casts of “The Book of Mormon” and “Brighton Beach Memoirs” and the national tour of “Spring Awakening.” “It’s a story about normal people living their normal lives and trying their best to find the extraordinary in the ordinary, everyday humdrum of life.”

In the show, Getzug plays Papi, “a lovelorn guy living in this town who’s really desperate for something to change for him. He desperately wants to connect to people, especially girls, and find love, and he’s been unsuccessful up until this point.”

For both its Middle Eastern-inflected score and the amount of Arabic and Hebrew spoken onstage, Getzug says “The Band’s Visit” is a rarity among Broadway shows.

"It just provides a really cool, unique perspective into a part of the world that isn’t often explored on the Broadway stage, and in a way that doesn’t really have anything to do with conflict,” he says. “It’s softer than a lot of other shows and might be a little smaller than what people are used to, but I think it still packs a pretty powerful punch at the end of the day.”

Cast member Coby Getzug.
  • Cast member Coby Getzug.

For Getzug, the show has personal resonance; his grandmother grew up strictly Orthodox in Jerusalem.

"I grew up speaking Hebrew, and so the fact that I get to now speak Hebrew in this Broadway show is a huge, huge joy,” Getzug says. “When we were in L.A. with the show, my grandmother got to see it, which was a really, really meaningful experience.”

Getzug says the show embraces the Israeli notion of “sabra,” a term that alludes to a prickly pear; it’s now a modern Hebrew term for a Jewish person born in Israel.

"Sabra is the fruit of the cactus, and so the idea is they’re really tough on the outside, but really soft and sweet on the inside,” he says.

In its tender exploration of the mysteries of life, Getzug says the show offers a surprising look at the intangibles that connect us all.

"It is truly something different than what people are used to seeing,” Getzug says. "It is a joyful, beautiful, emotional celebration of everyday life, and I think that anybody who comes to the show will be able to see themselves in the characters and relate in some way to what they are seeing, and hopefully leave with a newfound appreciation for life and music, the things that we share even when we feel we have nothing in common.”

Broadway in Richmond’s “The Band’s Visit” plays July 26-31 at the Altria Theater, 6 N. Laurel St. For more information, visit broadwayinrichmond.com or call (804) 592-3368.

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