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Sasson Gabay shifts to stage from silver screen

Sasson Gabay with Chilina Kennedy in The Band's Visit North American Tour. Photo by Matthew Murphy

It’s not every day that a key actor from a film plays the same character in its musical adaptation. But that’s what Toronto audiences will witness when celebrated actor Sasson Gabay reprises the role of Tewfiq in The Band’s Visit musical, which will run at the Ed Mirvish Theatre from Sept. 17 until Oct. 20.

The winner of 10 Tony Awards, the musical mirrors the premise of the 2007 film: an Egyptian police band on the way to a gig gets lost in the Negev desert, later befriending Israeli café owners, which lets the film examine the cultural differences between Israelis and Egyptians.

“This is a story about two groups of strangers that find themselves together and have to learn to communicate to each other, to help each other out,” said Gabay in a phone interview. “It’s about how we’re all humans and share the same anxieties and fears.”

The film undoubtedly resonated with viewers and critics, raking in 46 awards, including three awards at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival.

The musical began its first national tour at the Providence Performing Arts Center in Providence, R.I., in June 2019 and will reach 27 cities across North America. The touring musical also stars Chilina Kennedy, best known for her run as Carole King in Broadway’s Beautiful – The Carole King Musical.

Gabay said when he first heard the film would be adapted into a musical, he thought, “How can this soft atmospheric film be a musical?” But in the end, “I was so surprised to see how it translated into a musical.”

His journey to reprise the role of the Egyptian lieutenant/conductor comes by way of an American actor snagging a TV role. Tony Shalhoub had played Tewfiq in the American shows of The Band’s Visit, but when Shalhoub got the part of the father character in Amazon Prime Video’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, he got pulled away from the musical and Gabay got the call to take on the role he played in the film.

“I feel connected to this character, very much so,” said Gabay. “And I felt connected to him immediately.”

Born in Baghdad, Gabay’s work as a seasoned actor brought him to Israeli and American TV and cinema, but he also acted at Beit Lessin Theater in Tel Aviv, where he’s been performing continually for 24 years.

Fans of Shtisel may also recognize him as Nuchem Shtisel, the paternal uncle of the main protagonist. “I admire Shtisel for how it’s being appreciated by both Jewish and non-Jewish audiences. And for me, that role was a challenge. I had to speak Yiddish! But I appreciate and look forward to that kind of challenge.”

Another role he’s proud of is playing late Egyptian president Anwar Sadat in the Netflix film The Angel. “That was something I didn’t think I’d get to do,” he admitted.

Family has long been important to Gabay, and now, with the musical adaptation of The Band’s Visit, his family is closer to him than in any other project he’s undertaken.

“My son is in the show, playing one of the Israelis,” he said. “It’s always the dream of a father to see your son on stage with you. And I get to travel across Canada and the U.S. with him!

For showtimes and tickets visit the website.

The company of The Band’s Visit North American Tour. Photo by Matthew Murphy

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