by Frank Rizzo
First published in the Hartford Courant’s Hartford Magazine November 16, 2017
Broadway has a new hit with “The Band’s Visit,” but just like the little lost traveling band at the heart of the musical, the show’s journey was a circuitous one — starting in Hartford.
It all began when Orin Wolf, who graduated from the theater division of University of Hartford’s Hartt School in 2001, saw the film “The Band’s Visit” shortly after its 2007 release.
Wolf thought the modest and minimalist story — an Egyptian policemen’s band scheduled to perform at an Arab arts center in Israel is instead mistakenly directed to a remote Israeli desert town — would make for a wonderful and very different kind of musical. Wolf reached out to his friend and fellow Hartt alum, Maxwell Williams, who was at the time resident director at Hartford Stage.
After Wolf secured the stage rights of the movie from Israeli filmmaker Eran Kolirin, Williams approached then-artistic director Michael Wilson with the project who gave it a slot in the 2010 Brand:NEW” play reading series. The reading consisted mostly of the screenplay.
The response from that reading, which Williams directed and which also featured some atmospheric Mideastern music, was encouraging. “My objective was clear,” says Wolf. “I wanted to validate what I thought: that was this was a compelling theatrical story. At the end, that Hartford audience stood up and cheered.”
Says Wilson now: “We launched its formal development process and gave [Wolf and Williams] a very well-funded, large-cast workshop that helped send it on its way.”
Darko Tresnjak, who succeeded Wilson as artistic director in 2011, was interested in doing more musicals as part of his vision for the theater, and he continued to offer the possibility for a production for the show.