Chita Rivera stars in The Visit, a new musical by John Kander and the late Frank Ebb, the duo behind Cabaret and Chicago. In this eerily allegorical piece that seems straight out of a Twilight Zone classic, Claire Zachanassian (Rivera), the world’s wealthiest woman, mysteriously returns to her impoverished hometown to seek vengeance on Anton, a lover from her youth. Accompanied by a butler and two falsetto-singing eunuchs in white face paint and blindingly yellow gloves, Claire disrupts the town’s bid for her money when she promises them a fortune in return for the life of Anton (Roger Rees).
The Visit on Broadway. Photo by Joan Marcus
A show like this hardly ever sees the Broadway stage. Muted and disturbing, there is little by way of splashy dance numbers or heart-wrenching arias. Yes, there is cunnilingus in an early number, and yes, this is worthy of note. But all else feels pulled from some winding, hazy, Kafkaesque short story (the musical is adapted from a play by Friedrich Dürrenmatt). And besides a gorgeous set by Scott Pask (holy depth perception!), there’s little else truly impressive. Rivera is given little to do besides strut across the stage and throw out darkly witty one-liners. The rest of cast is equally subdued– there’s a lot of standing and singing while two dancers portraying Claire and Anton in their youth (John Riddle and Michelle Veintimilla) nostalgically move around them.
The lack of spectacle would be negligible were emotion or intellect put in its place. Unfortunately, there is little of either. One of the great things about minimalist allegories like this is its capacity to explore the complexities and realities about large, immutable concepts like justice, love, and power. The show as it’s written hardly says anything new, revelatory, or thoughtful about the cruelty enacted on Claire, nor the cruelty she enacts on the town. Lines like “For money cannot heal the sorrow that you feel” fill the show with cliched, superficial understandings of what might otherwise be a richly nuanced and emotional struggle. Similarly, Claire and Anton’s relationship has been boiled down to “look how much happier we were in our youth!” (my line) and Anton’s relationship with his family and the reason for his turnaround at the end of the play remain unclear. This is a visit that leaves you uneasy without any of the emotional or intellectual impact it presumes to make.
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The Visit plays at The Lyceum Theatre.