She played a bouncy Czech in “Once: The Musical” and a Polish lesbian in “Indecent.” Now Katrina Lenk is up for a Tony as a world-weary Israeli in “The Band’s Visit.”
And to think: This woman of many Mideastern and Eastern European voices grew up in the Midwest. As Glenda Jackson will tell you, that’s called acting. But the roles Lenk takes also require a good ear. She has a great one, thanks to the thousands of hours she spent, growing up in Iowa and Illinois, with the viola, that mellow love child of the violin and cello. She recently wowed at MCC Theater’s gala, drawing out a Yiddish-inflected tune on her viola while singing a sultry “If I Were a Rich Man.” And when the role calls for it, as it did in “Indecent” and “Once,” she can play a mean violin, too.
She also dances. No wonder her “Band’s Visit” colleagues call her a quadruple threat.
“She’s sort of a 360-degree artist,” says composer David Yazbek. “She’s a dancer, an actor, a singer … and a really good musician.”
Director David Cromer calls her “magical,” while book writer Itamar Moses hails her “unbelievable combination of enormous gifts, hard work and humility.”
They agree that Lenk, 43, is a “pretty private” person, which explains why, after she kissed her boyfriend goodbye in her dressing room the other day, she preferred not to tell The Post who he was, or even where she lives.
Home, for now, is the Ethel Barrymore Theatre and that dressing room, which Lenk has turned into a Turkish boudoir look-alike, with bright rugs, tin lanterns and a big armchair she calls “my throne.” She’s looking regal, in a corn-colored sheath dress and tangerine pumps — except for the Band-Aid on one bicep.
“Burned myself on a curling iron,” she says, giggling. “Oh, the glamour!”
And glamorous she is as Dina, the languid cafe owner in “The Band’s Visit.” It’s Dina who welcomes a bunch of lost souls, an Egyptian police band stranded for the night in the wrong town.
Based on the 2007 film of the same name, the musical was an off-Broadway hit last season. In August, Lenk and a few others from the cast made a whirlwind visit of their own, flying into Tel Aviv and driving two hours through the Negev desert to Yeruham, where the film was shot.
“There’s a little road that goes off from the desert, and it’s lined with these beautiful ornate street lamps,” she recalls. “It’s as if they had something really grand [in mind], and then the street just ends, and there’s more desert.”
One night, townspeople and visitors gathered at a small community center, where the cast performed songs from the show, along with clips from the movie. The Israelis made them dinner.
‘To bring this thing we love so much to the town where it came from — we were very moved.’
“To say it was a gift sounds trite,” Lenk says. “To bring this thing we love so much to the town where it came from — we were very moved. I don’t know if the people who lived there were moved … They seemed to love it, but maybe it was just us being very excited!”
Just as moving are the letters she says she’s received from theatergoers, many of them children.
“There are kids who come to see the show from Syria, Egypt and Israel who mention how meaningful it is to have their culture represented onstage in a way that’s not about terrorists or political conflict,” Lenk says.
“It’s just as people.”
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