Review By: Sandi Durell
If you were the richest woman in the world, would you spend your lifetime strategizing on how to wreak revenge on the lover who wronged you as a young girl? If you’re multi billionaire widow Claire Zachanassian (minus a limb or two) from the poor, crumbling little village of Bracken, where she was born, that’s just what the sensational Chita Rivera plots to do as she returns to her birth place. Terrence McNally’s book, with John Kander’s music and Fred Ebb’s lyrics, is the musical journey of the poignantly unusual quid pro quo she intends to extract to ease her life’s pain.
After a torrid sexual prelude opening, the downtrodden motley looking townspeople are aflutter awaiting her arrival. And arrive she does, with the pomp and circumstance of royalty in elegant white satin and fur, accompanied by her unusual entourage in black tuxedos, yellow shoes and sunglasses – two Eunuchs and one ex-town Judge –her lackeys, schlepping piles of luggage. “Alas, the old lady pays a visit” – “She’s been married often, widowed very well.”
The town and Claire each have their own agenda – she to excerpt a pound of flesh as retribution, they to get some of her money to survive and renew their lives and the town. Within is shopkeeper Anton Schell (Roger Rees), her childhood lover (their younger alter egos, and very talented John Riddle, Michelle Veintimilla open the show in dance), who is married to Matilde Schell (Mary Beth Peil), the basis of a jealousy between the two women that endures. The Mayor and the townspeople sing with surety there will be “A Happy Ending,” as memories of Claire’s past come alive in juxtaposing duet in four parts (young and old Claire and Anton) in a haunting “You, You, You,” while the humorous farce of Jacob Chicken (Chris Newcomer) and Louis Perch (Matthew Deming) tell another story in “Eunuch’s Testimony.”
What does Claire want in return for the billions she is willing to give? Nothing much – just the life of Anton Schell! As it turns out, Claire has a well-thought out plan that had been festering for many years; she owns everything in the town as leverage. Although she still has great emotional love for Anton, and he for her, she is intent upon preying upon the need and greed of the townspeople to achieve her goal. Why is she so determined? (spoiler alert)
The fetching voice of Jason Danieley, as Frederich Kuhn the schoolmaster, is “The Only One” who supports Anton, trying to sway the hungry palettes of the group exhausted by poverty, as they lean further and further toward allowing the atrocity of Anton’s death to become a reality. Mary Beth Peil as the righteous Matilde offers a fine performance, as do Rick Holmes as Father Josef, Elena Shaddow as Ottilie Schell, the daughter, Tom Nells as Rudi (the former Judge) along with an ensemble that is both humorous and daunting as they begin to taste the good life in their symbolic “Yellow Shoes.”
Chita Rivera (in her final bow to Broadway at age 82) is a regal marvel as she struts and kicks, owning the role of Claire. Roger Rees is a noble and resigned Anton.
It’s a dark, macabre and evocative production in the hands of director John Doyle, in his symbolic use of the minimal set pieces, together with Graciela Daniele’s choreographic cleverness. The exquisitely less is more set design comes to life via Scott Pask and is accompanied with spot on lighting by Japhy Weideman. Orchestrations are by Larry Hochman with musical direction and arrangements by David Loud.
The Visit (based on Friedrich Durrenmatt’s 1956 play) may not be one for the average theatergoer (although it should be) but is one of those esoteric secrets that fill the cognoscenti with excitement. To quote Terrence McNally “I think it’s riper than ever to be heard.”
Lyceum Theatre, 149 West 45 Street, NYC www.thevisitmusical.com – 95 minutes
*Photos: Joan Marcus