Sasson Gabay was not always sure about the musical “The Band’s Visit,” now playing at the Dolby Theater. In fact, “I thought it was a really crazy idea,” he says. But little did the Israeli film actor know that that “crazy idea” would take him to a Broadway stage and over 17 U.S. cities for a national tour, defining a large portion of his illustrious career.
After its opening, the musical “The Band’s Visit” went on to win 10 Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Best Book, as well as the 2017 Obie Award and a Grammy Award in 2019 to boot. Today, it continues to tour around the country. In an unexpected turn of events, Gabay, who originated the role of the lead Tawfiq in the 2007 film, has returned to its stage to tour with the company once again.
“It’s my baby,” says Gabay of the character and the story. “I’ve aged with it and have enjoyed it for years.”
The original film (which Gabay recommends fans of the musical to give a watch) had a humble beginning, with a “very low budget” and only 21 days total of filming. However, its same essence of connectedness brought the film its critical acclaim in Israel, winning eight Ophir Prizes from the Israeli Film Academy and landing itself as Israel’s original Foreign Language Film submission for the 80th Academy Awards.
Gabay has played the role of colonel Tawfiq in film, on Broadway and on tour for a total of over 15 years. Despite his initial misgivings about the musical rendition of the story, Gabay understands how special the production is and is only all the more grateful to be a part of it. When he was to tour again, his immediate answer was a resounding yes.
“It’s a modest story,” says Gabay. “With the music and the score, it’s like a dance. No matter where we perform, audiences laugh at the same parts, clap at the same parts. It is beyond culture.”
As a veteran of the role, Gabay has been able to gauge the ways in which he has continued to develop and change the character of Tewfiq, the reflective colonel of the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra.
“The pauses in the show are like a language for the character,” says Gabay. “I think the silence is like a way of life for Tewfiq. As I’ve gotten older, I dare to use the pauses more than when I was younger.”
As for the future of the actor, he continues to search for new opportunities. “I’ve got a big appetite for my career,” he says. “On the whole, this profession is a way of life for me. It’s the way I express myself.”
After having been in the U.S. for nearly three years now, Gabay hopes to gain more U.S. exposure. Most recently in the states, Gabai has appeared as a leading role in the running Netflix series “Shtisel” as well as the HBO drama “Oslo.”
When asked if he had a favorite between the film and the musical, the actor laughed and answered curtly: “I was in both. I love both. I cannot choose.”
“The Band’s Visit” is playing at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, Calif. Nov. 30 through Dec. 19.
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