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Q&A: Katrina Lenk of ‘The Band’s Visit’

Category Actor Spotlight

|by Jeryl Brunner |

Katrina Lenk takes us behind the scenes of this fascinating new musical

Fresh from her triumph last season in Indecent, Katrina Lenk stars in The Band’s Visit at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. Lenk plays Dina, a tough yet very generous and caring cafe owner in Bet Hatikva, Israel. Life is rolling along until a traveling Egyptian band accidentally blows into this sleepy desert town. This quietly beautiful new musical with haunting songs by David Yazbek and a script by Itamar Moses, celebrates the power of music and the joy of unlikely connections. 

Tony Shalhoub and Katrina Lenk in 'The Band's Visit' (Photo: Matthew Murphy)

Tony Shalhoub and Katrina Lenk in 'The Band's Visit' (Photo: Matthew Murphy)

When did you first hear about The Band’s Visit? People might not know the show is based on the film. 
Katrina Lenk:
It was a last-minute audition. As soon as I found out what it was, I thought, I must watch the film to understand. I fell in love with the film. They wanted me to sing the song “Omar Sharif,” so I got to learn it out of context. I fell in love with the song and had a wonderful time in the audition room. [Director] David Cromer, David Yazbek and [Musical Director] Andrea Grody were all in the room together and it felt like fun from the very beginning, which is unusual. 

Do you remember when you first wanted to perform or be on stage? 
Katrina Lenk:
My desire to step into stories started when I was really young. When I was in grade school we did a version of the Pied Piper of Hamelin. I really wanted to be the Pied Piper. I was consumed that I must play the role. I did not get the part, but I remember that feeling of wanting. I have had similar feelings about other parts, thinking I MUST play this. There is something about being so drawn into a story. The idea of reading it and then getting to stand in a story and tell it yourself is so intoxicating. I think, if I could just step into this story how exciting would that be?

And you are also a dancer. 
Katrina Lenk:
I started dancing when I was three. It was one of those dance studios where they have ballet, tumbling,  tap and  jazz. You do all these things but you’re three so it kind of all looks the same. I studied dance all through college and a little bit after. I had various injuries and things that made it prohibitive. Then I got drawn into acting and the singing side of things. But I still love dance so much. It was definitely my first love. 

What do you love about being in New York? 
Katrina Lenk: In a way it reminds me of growing up in Chicago. There are neighborhoods and you can walk everywhere. I love the sense that there are always people around and yet no one really cares. Everyone has their own life that they’re living, and the diversity is fantastic. There is so much art and culture here. 

When you’re not working what do you love to do? 
Katrina Lenk:
I like to go out to eat. There are so many places to eat in New York which is another reason why I love it. I like Anyway Cafe,  this tiny little Russian restaurant in the Village. It’s in an intimate space and on certain nights they have someone playing music, either it’s Russian romantic classical music or folk music. And they have Russian food and infused vodkas. It’s a charming little place. 

I read that your first Broadway show was understudying Alison Pill in The Miracle Worker which Kate Whoriskey directed. But you never got to go on? 
Katrina Lenk:
No, I never did. Thank God I didn’t get to go on because I was very intimidated by all those women’s performances. They were amazing. It was one of those instances where I was in LA and thinking, should I be an actor? What am I doing? I was waiting tables and not getting auditions or jobs. Then out of the blue I got a call from Kate Whoriskey asking if I was interested in understudying in The Miracle Worker. We had worked together several times before. It was one of those times literally Broadway calls you. I thought, I have to go. I moved all my stuff and that was the beginning of my love with New York.

This month the original cast recording of the show will be available on Ghostlight Records. What do you like about the music?  
Katrina Lenk:
I love this music so much and it’s really exciting to have it all in one spot and to share it with more people who maybe haven’t gotten to see the show yet. Dean Sharenow did a fantastic job engineering the recording. Everyone sounds beautiful on it. The music has some Arabic flavor, American jazz flavor and also a rock flavor with just the tiniest dash of music theater. The music has this wonderful quality of being familiar. You think, maybe I’ve heard this song before. Then there is this amazing modality that will come in from the Arabic music or something that is unfamiliar and then it’s really exciting. It has a great combination of all these worlds together.

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