Lyceum Theatre, The Visit Review - Chita Rivera Sweeps the Stage with Grace and Venom

THE VISIT is currently playing at the Lyceum Theater, 149 W. 45th Street, NYC.  It is an open-ended production.

I knew something was up when I saw the dark, and murky, yet well designed set.  I knew something was REALLY up when Claire  (Chita Rivera) entered the stage  in an all white, wedding gown colored dress flowered with endless jewels.  To say she 'stuck out like a sore thumb' turned out to be more than I expected.

 

The unbreakable Chita Rivera

The often-widowed billionairess revisits her run down, bankrupt birthplace after many years.  Does she have an agenda?  You bet she does.  Never trust a woman who brings her own coffin with her. And the audience is always wondering why this coffin has a major part in the play.  The cast spins and dances on the coffin as they plan how they will spend the many billions Claire will bequeath upon the town.  At what cost?  That's the billion dollar question.   This play depicts the real meaning of 'money is the root of all evil.'  Because, all evil is about to hit the town of Brachen.  Too bad the shabbily dressed, hungry and desperate townspeople were mislead.  Yet, the question is, 'will the coffin go back with Claire empty?  That's the spoiler I will most definitely avoid.

 

I did not see Roger Rees in my afternoon adventure to the Lyceum Theater, but kudos to Tom Nelis who portrayed Anton Shell.  T'was not an easy task facing the woman who had her own reasons in coming to Bracken.  Anton and Claire had a past.  And, it wasn't a good one.  She was wooed and wronged by Anton.  Now, she wants revenge.  Big time.

  

The Cast of The Visit

The Visit was 15 years in the making and the last collaboration between Kander and Ebb famous for Broadway megahits like Chicago, Cabaret, Fosse and many other notables.  The Visit was due on Broadway in 2001 with Angela Lansbury starring. But a confluence of personal events in Lansbury’s life and, later, changing attitudes about entertainment in the wake of 9/11, scuttled plans. It got a new life, with Rivera starring, in 2008 at The Signature Theatre outside Washington, D.C. The one-act production with many members of this cast was performed last year at Williamstown.

 

Once you've seen Rivera, it's hard to imagine anyone else playing the part.  Although Rivera's  voice may crack at times, she more than makes up for it when she slithers on stage with a prominent cane to help balance her 'prosthetic leg and arm.'  "I'm indestructible" she says.  She's right.  Very right.

  

Michelle Veintimillia, Matthew Deming, Roger Rees, Chita Rivera, Chris Newcomer, and the cast of "The Visit." Photo Credit: Thom Kaine

The music was eerie yet entertaining.  I almost felt guilty when I laughed at parts that should have had me shudder.  The harmonic talents of all the townsfolk were mesmerizing.  The Yellow Shoes number was numbing yet, again, entertaining.  All 22 songs were done with pure professionalism and I love the fact that there was no intermission.  Where would the intermission be anyway, before or after we find out why the coffin is being paraded around the stage for 100 minutes?  It's more than a prop; it's a coffin with a purpose.

 

The superb supporting cast includes Mary Beth Pail (The Good Wife) Jason Daniele (“Next to Normal”) as the town’s schoolmaster, and David Garrison (TV’s “Married with Children”) as the mayor, who will have to justify whatever decisions are made about Claire’s proposal. John Riddle and Michelle Veintimilla (below) are lovely as the young version of the two protagonists; they begin the musical performing a ballet in which an overtly sexual act is mimed—it certainly set the tone for the evening. 

 

Chita Rivera & Michelle Veintimilla

Few can complain, when Rivera, during Love and Love Alone, dances a melancholy sometimes heart wrenching number.  For those of us in the audience who are considered 'seniors,' you can almost see your own life flashing in front of you. Her bones might be stiffer than they once were but the elegance and form are still mesmerizing. (Graciela Daniele did the dream-like choreography.) Rivera still puts a spring in Claire's shuffle, sauntering around with her silver-handled cane in the ghoulish I Would Never Leave You, as her trio of bizarre henchmen pledge their loyalty.  And bizarre they are.  Dressed in all black with yellow 'accessories' and mime-type make up, they never leave Claires' side.  Never, Ever.

 

As the theater goers exited this beautiful, historic theater, many were asking, 'well, what did you think'?  I can only say, there is a reason I didn't look away for 100 minutes.  I've never seen a play/musical quite like this and for that; it's worth the price of a ticket.  The Visit is nominated for 5 TONY AWARDS. 

 

Cast: Chita Rivera, Roger Rees, Jason Danieley, David Garrison, Mary Beth Peil, George Abud, Matthew Deming, Diana DiMarzio, Rick Holmes, Tom Nelis, Chris Newcomer, Aaron Ramey, John Riddle, Elena Shaddow, Timothy Shew, Michelle Veintimilla

Director: John Doyle

Music: John Kander

Lyrics: Fred Ebb

Book: Terrence McNally, based on the play by Friedrich Durrenmatt, as adapted by Maurice Valency

Set designer: Scott Pask

Costume designer: Ann Hould-Ward

Lighting designer: Japhy Weideman

Sound designer: Dan Moses Schreier

Music direction & arrangements: David Loud

Orchestrations: Larry Hochman

Choreographer: Graciela Daniele

Presented by Tom Kirdahy, Edgar Bronfman Jr., Tom Smedes, Hugh Hayes, Peter Stern, Judith Ann Abrams, Rich Affannato, Hunter Arnold, Carl Daikeler, Ken Davenport, Bharat Mitra & Bhavani Lev, Peter May, Ted Snowdon, Gabrielle Palitz/Weatherby & Fishman, Marguerite Hoffman/Jeremy Youett, Carlos Arana/Terry Loftis, Veenerick & Katherine Vos Van Liempt. 42nd Club/Silva Theatrical, The Shubert Organization, in association with Williamstown Theatre Festival.

More information at the Lyceium Theatre website

 

Photos: Courtesy of "The Visit"

 

 

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