“I’m unkillable,” proclaims Claire Zachanassian, and her portrayer Chita Rivera might well make the same decree, as Kander and Ebb’s final musical The Visit makes its long-awaited visit to Broadway.
In development and out-of-town tryouts since 2001, the show has burnt through a leading lady (Angela Lansbury) and several leading men (Phillip Bosco, John McMartin, George Hearn, Frank Langella, John Cullum), as well as changes in production teams.
Stopping the show for at least a minute of wild applause on her first entrance, Rivera certainly seems to have been the right choice to drive this star vehicle. Her male co-star for the Broadway season is veteran actor Roger Rees.
The Visit is a dark, adult chamber musical with an intriguing blend of vengeance and romance. Each of the 16 players in the talented, highly experienced ensemble cast has their own significant role to play in the story.
The world’s richest woman, Claire has returned to the decrepit European hamlet of Brachen to take her long-awaited revenge on the town and its residents. When Anton (Rees) looks particularly eager for Claire’s arrival, it is clear that the two young Follies-like figures on stage are the embodiment of lovers Claire and Anton in their youth. This conceit reaches its zenith in 11 o’clock number “Love and Love Alone” as Claire dances freely with her younger self.
The musical evokes a range of emotional responses as Claire proceeds with the brutally cold logic of her plan, and the questions of right and wrong are left entirely for the audience to decide.
Director John Doyle employs a smattering of absurdist elements and Brechtian devices in the non-naturalistic style of the show. Bright yellow costume additions represent expensive, newly purchased items. Claire’s entourage of butler and pair of eunuchs wear white masks and black glasses. Claire’s set of black valises is used as all manner of props, and the ominous black coffin she brings becomes anything from a park bench to an automobile.
Rivera is in dazzling form, and has the audience in the palm of her hand throughout. She conveys the layers of wounds and hurt that have shaped Claire into the driven, cheerfully malevolent woman she is today. As if Rivera hasn’t looked youthful enough for the whole evening, when she runs out, beaming, for her curtain call somehow further decades melt away. For fans of Rivera, this production is simply unmissable.
Kander and Ebb have written an instantly accessible, highly romantic score full of lilting waltzes that suit the European setting. Given that every cast member is an accomplished singer/actor, the score sounds wonderful. A cast recording is highly anticipated.
Rees projects a likeable, scruffy charm as broken shopkeeper Anton Schell, adding to the enigmatic nature of the story by creating a sympathetic angle on the man who selflishly broke young Claire’s heart.
Strong support comes from the whole company, which contains exceptional talents Jason Danieley, Mary Beth Peil and Timothy Shew to name but a few.
The Visit plays at Lyceum Theater, New York.
Photos: Joan Marcus