Jewish Pennsylvanian hits the right chord in ‘The Band’s Visit’
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TheaterShow opens March 10

Jewish Pennsylvanian hits the right chord in ‘The Band’s Visit’

Marc Ginsburg has little in common with the morally compromised character he plays in the Tony Award-winning musical.

Marc Ginsburg and the cast of 'The Band's Visit' (Photo by Matthew Murphy)
Marc Ginsburg and the cast of 'The Band's Visit' (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

If there is one character in “The Band’s Visit” that patrons “may not be terribly fond of,” it is probably Sammy, admitted Marc Ginsburg, who plays that role in the touring production of the show opening at the Benedum Center March 10 and running through March 15.

Still, though the character Ginsburg has been portraying at theaters all over the country for the past eight months has “questionable morals,” there are really “no bad guys in this show,” he said.

“It’s regular people with a lot of complicated things going on in their lives,” said Ginsburg, who praised the simplicity and beauty of the Tony Award-winning musical that tells the story of an Egyptian band scheduled to perform a concert in an Arab cultural center in Petah Tikva, Israel, but instead mistakenly ends up in a tiny Jewish town called Bet Hatikva.

Sammy is a married man having an on-again, off-again affair with Dina, an unmarried café owner and the female lead in the show.

Although Ginsburg does not have much in common with Sammy — the actor is “very much a family man,” with his wife and young son traveling along with him on the tour — he enjoys exploring the motivations of the morally problematic character and pondering what makes him tick.

“I always find it interesting to find the humanity, to find what makes this person this way,” said Ginsburg. “Not all bad guys in shows or movies are the old-school mustache-twirling supervillain-type person. They are all humans. What derailed them, what got them off the tracks in some way? I find that really interesting, to delve into people’s psyche in that way.”

Ginsburg, who grew up attending a Conservative synagogue near Philadelphia and earned his BFA from Penn State, is married to Jewish actor Liza Baron. The two met while in adjacent prison cells onstage during a production of “Kiss of the Spider Woman” in Chelsea, New York. They have a 3-year-old son.

Judaism remains important to Ginsberg, even on the road. And Shabbat, which, is a central part of his family’s week, has also become a treasured routine among the company of “The Band’s Visit.” The cast and crew gather a couple times a month on Friday nights after the show for dinner and Shabbat blessings, a tradition begun by the Broadway cast.

“We’ll get the whole group together, usually somewhere between 20 and 25 people will show up, and we will say the blessings and drink wine and just eat in a very familial way, because, you know, we are family,” Ginsburg said.

About half the touring company is Jewish, said Ginsburg, including some Israelis. Non-Jewish company members join in the Shabbat dinner as well.

“Everybody comes together,” he said. “The people who aren’t Jewish and who had never done Shabbat before really have enjoyed experiencing it. The main focus of it is to bring people together, to create a family dynamic and to have everybody experience that and know what that feels like, especially since we are all away from home right now. And that has been really, really rewarding for the Jews and non-Jews alike.”

That sense of peaceable camaraderie is reflected in the quiet simplicity of the show itself.

“We are not going for glitz and glamour and big production numbers and all that,” said Ginsburg. “We are really trying to examine what makes people people, and what humanity is all about.”

The musical centers on “two groups of people that run into each other in an inconvenient time who are programmed to not like each other,” he explained. “But somehow human nature and human sensibility step in and say, ‘Well, we are all people. And these people seem to be going through a tough time. How can we reach into ourselves and be decent human beings and help out another group of human beings who are doing us no harm?’ And to me, that’s fascinating.”

There is much stillness in the show, noted Ginsburg, and a lot “very quiet moments.”

“The great part about this is there are no politics, no agenda, no religion in this show,” he said. “It’s literally about people trying to connect, and I feel it hits home with people on so many different levels.” pjc

Toby Tabachnick can be reached at
ttabachnick@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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