|The cast of The Visit. Photo: Joan Marcus|
By Lauren Yarger
Which is sweeter, love or revenge, asks the tag line promoting The Visit, the last musical of John Kander and Fred Ebb. My answer? It doesn't matter -- it's a Kander and Ebb musical and starring Chita Rivera in what could be her last Broadway role to boot. The plot hardly matters!
Kander and Ebb have long been favorites of mine. The team has given us Chicago, Cabaret, Fosse, Kiss of the Spider Woman and many others, including The Scottsboro Boys, which is one of my all-time favorites. The stories aren't always great,but the music (Kander) and lyrics (Ebb) are always superb (Kander has received a Tony nomination for The Visit's score; Rivera is nominated in the Best Actress category and Terrence McNally's darkly humorous and odd book, based on the play by Friedrich Dürrenmatt as adapted by Maurice Valency, is nominated as well.)
The Visit's score has more than 20 musical numbers (in its breezy 95 minutes with no intermission) and offers strains of Kander's trademark sound as well as a piece that sounds like a section from Les Miserables. The cast, directed by John Doyle (Sweeney Todd; Company) is made up of something we don't see very often on a Broadway stage: a lot of older folks.
Rivera at 82, offers a raspy singing voice and is joined by an equally raspy voiced Roger Rees, 71. The plot revolves around the return of very wealthy Claire Zachanassian (Rivera) to her struggling home town in Brachen, Switzerland, after many years away. Anton Schell (Rees) was the boy who abandoned her years ago to marry Matilde (Mary Beth Peil). He took over his father-in-law's shop and raised a family (his now-grown kids are played by played by Elena Shaddon, and George Abud). Claire went off, literally lost an arm and a leg -- I told you the story was odd -- but married many times and amassed a vast fortune. The townspeople hope she will share some of her money with them to improve their schools, hospital and police force.
Claire arrives with a butler, Rudi (Tom Nelis) and two eunuchs named Louis Perch (Matthew Deming) and Jacob Chicken (Chris Newcomer) -- all faceless and wearing formal attire with yellow shoes and gloves (costume design is by Ann Hould-Ward). They tote a ton of baggage (which the townsfolk symbolically carry around and use in movement by choreography by Graciela Daniele) and seem grateful to be enslaved.
Claire is willing to forgive the town for their part in a trial that had forced young Claire to leave Brachen in disgrace. We discover she already found a solution for the butler and eunuchs, who were participants. She will give the town the money it wants -- and even include a bonus for each resident, she generously announces, but there is one catch. Claire is willing to trade the money for the life of her betrayer, Anton. As she straddles the fine line between love and hate, she reveals plans to keep him near by carrying him off in a shiny black coffin she has stored at the bottom of her luggage pile.
While the townsfolk think about her offer, and try to see whether anyone is willing to pull off the dastardly deed, Claire and Anton reminisce about their lust-filled youth (which we already have witnessed -- very graphically-- in the show's opening scene as John Riddle (who has an outstanding singing voice in his Broadway debut) and graceful Michelle Veintimilla play out the younger selves of the old couple). Doyle and Daniele deftly combine their direction, along with Tony-Award-nominated lighting design by Japhy Weideman, to create effective sequences simultaneously shared by the older couple in the present and their younger counterparts in their memories. Doyle has the young couple sitting on the coffin, twirling it around in nonchalant fashion with their feet, as though it's some kind of joy ride, while being totally unaware of the significance it will play in their future.
Scott Pask's looming and depressingly brooding sets add to the other-worldly feel of the show, which examines the depths to which people will go to extract revenge and satiate their greed. Those yellow shoes and other props in that hue come to represent gold's influence. It's odd, perhaps not fully comprehended, but interesting. And any time we get to hear a Kander-and-Ebb score, I'm happy to pay a visit to the theater.
The Visit plays at the Lyseum Theatre, 149 West 45th, NYC. Performances are Tuesday-Thursday at 7 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Wednesday and Saturday at 2 pm; Sunday at 3 pm. http://thevisitmusical.com/
Christians might also like to know:
-- Graphic sexual activity