Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Broadway Theater Review: The Visit with Chita Rivera

The cast of The Visit. Photo: Joan Marcus
It's Always Wonderful to Visit a Kander and Ebb Show
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

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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