Chilina Kennedy has played Carole King in Broadway’s “Beautiful” for more than 1,000 performances, but when the opportunity to join the national tour of “The Band’s Visit” came along, she couldn’t resist.
She took a leave from “Beautiful” earlier this year to play Dina in the 10-time Tony Award-winning musical, the role that won Katrina Lenk a Tony.
“I remember first seeing the show, and it stayed with me for quite a while,” she said. “Originally, I was going to replace Katrina on Broadway, but they announced it was closing, so when the tour came along, I was very happy to get a chance to share it with audiences across the U.S. and Canada.”
“The Band’s Visit” is a charming, offbeat musical that follows what happens when, after a mix-up at the border, a group of Egyptian musicians are sent to a remote village in the middle of the Israeli desert. The band is taken in by locals and their lives become intertwined in the most unexpected ways.
With music and lyrics by David Yazbek and a book by Itamar Moses, the musical is based on the screenplay by Eran Kolirin and is directed by David Cromer. The show also stars award-winning Israeli actor Sasson Gabay, star of the original film for which the musical was based and the Broadway production.
The tour will play the Kennedy Center through Aug. 4.
“I can’t wait to bring this to D.C., and I am curious to talk with people afterwards and see how they feel about it, and compare it to my experience when I saw the show,” Kennedy said. “The main reason people love this show is: it could be a big political message and this argument about the Middle East, but it’s not. It’s delicate and beautiful and shows how people can be affected by music.”
To prepare for her role, Kennedy has watched the movie and listened to the music a great deal.
“The work they do in the film is extraordinary, and they followed the movie closely with the show, so I think seeing it both on stage and the film, with two very different version of Dina, was very helpful for me,” she said. “It’s like painting with a palette; I have seen two very bold colors—a red version of Dina and a yellow version of Dina, so I know there can be a lot of different colors to her.”
Kennedy loves the darkness of the character and how her life is changed when the band enters her life.
“It’s wonderful to investigate what that can bring up in her, and in me,” she said. “The show is not saccharine and people aren’t being super sweet to each other, but they are very kind and doing very kind things in a pragmatic way. It’s a pretty special show.”
A dancer for most of her life, Kennedy was drawn to the stage early on and never wanted to do anything else. She made her Broadway debut as Mary Magdalene in Stratford Shakespeare Festival’s production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” and has been in and out of “Beautiful” since 2014.
“I’ll be going back to ‘Beautiful’ after I finish this tour, and I’ll be doing this for the next six months,” Kennedy said. “I have a little boy who will be starting kindergarten, so I want to be able to be with him and spend time with him.”
Kennedy didn’t even realize what a big fan of Carole King she was until she started doing the show.
“I knew her Tapestry album and I knew some other songs, but I had no idea she had written some of my favorite songs,” she said. “At the beginning, playing Carole was a lot of pressure because everyone was such a fan of her and the expectation to do her justice was kind of intense. She’s such an icon and I really got into it and found my version of her.”
Until she gets back to that show, Kennedy is going to be enjoying the ride of “The Band’s Visit.”
“This show is about human connection and we break apart barriers very quickly and allow the other to change us in very positive ways,” she said. “I think that’s something we need right now and why the show is so successful.”