Interview: Dorothy Bezzina From The Band's Visit

Interview: Dorothy Bezzina From The Band's Visit

An eternal love of music has guided Dorothy Bezzina through a successful and extensive career. She’s now starring in The Band’s Visit, a local production of the 10-time Tony Award-winning musical, which is set to feature a top Maltese cast for its local premiere. The production opens at Teatru Manoel from 6 Mai 2023

What led you to pursue music and theatre?

Growing up in a big family with a love for different kinds of music, I was always surrounded by instruments and encouraged to explore them. Singing came naturally to me, and I was always drawn to performing. Even as a young child, I would organize plays for my siblings and cousins, and create costume designs in a diary for my mum to sew. I always felt I had an innate urge to be on stage. My first instrument was the piano, which I began studying when I was quite young. Later, together with three of my siblings, I joined the Malta Children’s Choir, eventually joining ActReact Theatre Arts School as one of their original members. The training we received there was exceptional, and the discipline we learned has stayed with me throughout my career. I performed in many of ActReact’s theatre productions and have since enjoyed a great number of performing opportunities, both locally, with different companies, as well as abroad. Although I was trained as a triple threat, singing was always my main discipline. As my voice matured, I became increasingly interested in exploring different styles of singing. This led me to take a serious interest in classical voice technique, under the guidance of Soprano Miriam Cauchi at the Malta School of Music, which further enhanced my versatility as a singer. I have recently also set up my own performing arts company, Revamp MT, together with my friend and long-time music colleague, Edward Mifsud.

What would you like people to know about The Band’s Visit, the production you’re currently working on? Can you tell us about the story.

I discovered this work purely by chance. I was looking to view something completely different, and the internet has a way of directing you to things it wants you to see. I sat down for a solid hour watching a video of Katrina Lenk (who played Dina on Broadway) singing ‘Omar Sharif’ on repeat. There was something so raw in its delivery that got me hooked, and I wanted to know more.

The musical is based on the 2007 Israeli film of the same name, directed by Eran Kolirin, and the story is a very simple one. It takes place in the fictional town of Bet Hatikva, a remote desert village in Israel. The Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra, a group of Egyptian musicians, has arrived in Israel to perform at the opening of an Arab Cultural Center, but due to a mix-up at the bus station, they end up in Bet Hatikva instead of their intended destination, the larger city of Petah Tikva. Stranded and unable to find transportation until the next day, the band members are taken in by various locals in the town.

This piece is unlike any musical I have ever seen. It focuses on language barriers, people struggling to find the right words, and it’s about connection through music. I was not surprised it won 10 Tony Awards after its Broadway run. It won me over from the first few bars of ‘Omar Sharif’, and it felt to me like it was a natural fit for the local stage. Getting lost sometimes, as what happened with this group of Egyptian musicians, helps you find your inner self.

Tell us a little bit about your character Dina. How does she fit into the story of The Band’s Visit? How does playing her challenge you and, on the flip side, how does it reward you?

Dina is a complex, multi-faceted woman. She is the owner of a small café in the town of Bet Hatikva and becomes the main point of contact for the members of the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra when they accidentally end up in her town. The band’s accident is a welcome change as she yearns for something different to happen in her small-town life. Dina’s character is certainly a challenging one to portray. She is a woman who is simultaneously tough and vulnerable, cynical and romantic. She has a dry sense of humour, however, as the night goes on and she spends more time with the band’s conductor, Tewfiq, she begins to open up and reveal more of herself, as do the members of the orchestra. It takes a lot of hard work and research to capture all these nuances. Dina also conveys some of her most complex emotions through song. Add to that a distinct Israeli accent, which adds another layer of authenticity and depth to the show. In preparation for this musical, we were in constant consultation with our dialect coach, Dr Roy Horovitz, from Israel’s national theatre, who offered his great expertise to help us portray all characters as convincingly as possible. I believe these challenges are in themselves rewarding. Dina’s rich backstory and a strong emotional arc can create a sense of intimacy and connection between her and the audience, as they are invited to become a part of her journey and share in her experiences.

The Band’s Visit is a show heralded for its message of humanism and love. Why does that matter to audiences? What is it about this that is so compelling and important?

In a world that can often feel divided and polarised, the message of The Band’s Visit is a powerful reminder of our shared humanity. Given the current political tensions, not only in the Middle East, but also in Eastern Europe and in so many other parts of the world, I think there is a place for stories that are very raw and honest, focusing on the very essence of being human. The show also challenges stereotypes and assumptions about both cultures, emphasizing the importance of seeing each other as individuals rather than as representatives of larger groups or nations. This offers a counterpoint to the often negative and divisive narratives that dominate political discussions and reminds us that beneath the surface-level conflicts and divisions, there are shared experiences and values that can bring us together. This is a story about love, and hope, and what can be achieved when people come together with open hearts and minds.

What is a favourite song in this musical and why?

I think the music is one of the show’s most memorable and impactful elements. The score is quite complex and requires a different kind of mindset. It’s very eclectic – there’s a bit of jazz, musical theatre, blended with microtonal Arabic flavours. I’ve always been in love with this kind of music, so it really makes it hard to pick out a favourite… so I’ll mention three. There’s ‘Omar Sharif’ – a hauntingly beautiful song is sung by Dina as she reminisces about her childhood. The song is a tribute to the power of cinema and the way it can connect people across cultures and borders. ‘Haled’s Song about Love’ is another beautiful number in the way it blends jazz and Middle Eastern sounds, while playfully showcasing the character’s charm and charisma. One of the concluding songs, ‘Answer Me’, is also a stunning ballad exploring longing, and the human desire for connection and understanding. In this moment on stage, although the entire cast is singing together, they’re all singing in their own worlds, reflecting on their individual story lines, culminating into a spine-tingling chorus. One aspect that makes this musical stand apart is the fact that it features a number of actor-musicians who will be performing all these songs themselves, while also being part of the action on stage – something still relatively rare in mainstream theatre.

The musical will be staged at the Manoel Theatre. What do you love about performing this on stage?

Performing at Teatru Manoel is always a truly special and immersive experience that combines the beauty of the theatre itself with the excitement of live performance. It is the ideal space for this musical because it offers an intimate atmosphere, allowing power to be transferred through the simplest of gestures – a blank face, a pause, misunderstanding, making an effort to communicate… The show invites audiences to embrace the complexities of human communication, and being able to present it in such an intimate setting makes it all the more engaging. I believe visiting and watching a production at Teatru Manoel is a must-do activity for anyone visiting Malta, particularly for those who love theatre and the performing arts.

Why should people seek out The Band’s Visit?

Audiences are in for a truly unique experience. The Band’s Visit is a story about people, and it is refreshing for audiences to see themselves on stage sometimes. This piece is so human and so stripped down, that it allows that space, and I think people will respond well to that. The cast is also a tour de force of exceptional talent, drawing from diverse music and theatre backgrounds. It is a must-see for anyone who loves theatre, music, or simply wants to experience the power of art to move and inspire us.

What do you hope audiences take away from this production?

I think what audiences take away from the show is ultimately up to them. The beauty of theatre lies in its ability to speak to each of us in a unique and personal way, and I am confident that The Band’s Visit will do just that. Whether it inspires us to reflect on our own situations and relationships, or simply leaves us with a sense of joy and wonder, I hope that it is ultimately an enriching and fulfilling experience.

The Band’s Visit will debut at the Manoel Theatre in Valletta on 6 Mai and will run until the 13 Mai. 

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