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chita rivera

‘The Visit’ Doesn’t Have Much Brain or Heart

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.

For more thoughts on The Visit, listen to our podcast!

The Visit plays at The Lyceum Theatre.

Podcast on ‘Airline Highway’ and ‘The Visit’

We discuss the brilliant, fractured, messy, and joyous Airline Highway at Manhattan Theater Club, and the new Kander & Ebb musical The Visit starring Chita Rivera.

Our discussion of The Visit starts around the 20:00 mark.

For more information on Airline Highway and The Visit.

A link to a mentioned review by Ben Brantley in the New York Times.

Drood Times Two @ Studio 54

The ladies of LMezz were so intent on solving The Mystery of Edwin Drood they went on two different nights. Here are our reports, including alternate endings, crazy amazing belting, and much much more!

Kate

I saw Drood on a cold Thursday night. While the energy in the cast (and audience) was under the weather (ha!) it was a jolly good show. The audience elected Princess Puffer as the killer and set up Helena Landless with Durdles: their duet was simply hilarious. I absolutely loved the Clue-esque ending, with the murder outcomes illustrated by the shadows of actors behind a scrim. Another delight included the 19th century costumes, designed by William Ivey Long. (Seriously. I’ve never gotten so much shoe/stocking envy until I saw the women ensemble’s color coded boots. So pretty!)

Finally, I am all about the female performances of this cast. I got to see Chita Rivera. Singing. On a Broadway stage. Betsy Wolfe’s performance as Rosa Bud was plucky and such fun. And Drood has made me obsessed with Stephanie J. Block. Obsessed!


Sara

Drood sounds like my kind of show. A Victorian-set comedy with a play-within-a-play structure with enormous amounts of audience participation. Sounds like my theater dream come true. The actual show though is less thrilling. While the performances were great (Who knew Smash’s Will Chase was such a ham?) and the costumes and scenery were extreme eye candy, it never really amounts to much more than cute. There’s a plot and a lot of fun, weird characters, but they remain stock characters without much motivation or dilemma. I actually enjoyed the songs, but they all felt out of place– either much darker or much too complex than their surroundings. The songs would have worked perfectly in a much more nuanced show or under better direction. And I have never seen an audience more mellow during intermission.

When it came time to pick the murderer, my sister (who came with me) and I really couldn’t care less. We picked the parson because we thought he’d have the most complicated motivation in killing Drood. The rest of the audience probably had the same idea because the parson won the vote. Too bad there wasn’t any more motivation than we might have guessed using the scant information we already had on him.

On our way home, my sister asked me, Maybe it would have worked if it wasn’t a play within a play? If they weren’t introducing each actor’s entrance and so on…? I said, But those were the best parts! It was all the murky, mucky stuff in between that bored me!

Maybe Drood’s lack of energy comes from the show trying to be two things at the same time. On the one hand, it’s trying to be self-aware and meta-theatrical. If a show goes that route, it’s entering into an agreement to abandon realism. The comedy of the show also stems from it’s awareness of theatrical conventions. It’s why the comedy in other self-aware shows like Peter and the Starcatcher or The 39 Steps work so spectacularly well. If you’re going to expose the show’s artificiality, you can’t really expect audiences to get swept up in plot and characters so instead, you work with wit, conventions, and perhaps a complexity of ideas.

Drood, however tries to be both this AND realist. It’s play within a play has both a fake play (Drood) and a real one (Music Hall). The cast tries to make its Music Hall Venue as realist as possible, even having the 1895-minded actors mingle with the audience before the show. At the same time, the fake play, Drood, also tries to be too realist, with its hyper-sets and costumes, its misplaced, darkly emotional songs, all of which are supposed to sweep us away into the story. Thing is, we can’t be in the London Music Hall and Cloisterham at the same time. Well, maybe we can, given a funnier, better production?

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