Thursday, April 23, 2015

Review - The Visit

Back in 2011, I opened up my wallet to get a ticket to the Actors Fund concert version of Kander & Ebb's The Visit, figuring it could be my only chance to see the show and to see the legendary Chita Rivera in it.  How happy was I that not only was the show revived last summer in Williamstown, but then the producers decided to bring it to NYC?  Very!  I'm so glad to have had the chance to revisit (hah!) The Visit - it's actually quite different now.  And although I'm trying to not buy any tickets at the moment since I'm going to Dublin in about ten days (more posting on that later!), I couldn't resist getting a discounted TDF ticket to this musical before it opened.  It opens tonight, so please theater gods.  Make the reviews be good.  Make the run of The Visit last a long time so I can go see this show again!!!

When I went back to look at my report from the 2011 concert, I had a few quibbles about the book and the score, but adored Chita and some of the songs.  Thinking back, I probably have a lot of those same quibbles, but while I was watching the show last night?  I was completely blown away and so incredibly moved throughout.  I think I freaked out my seat neighbor by how overcome I was throughout the evening.  I had to get out of the theater immediately so I could go home and cry in peace.  A good theatrical cry, of course.

The Visit is a musical version of the Durrenmatt play about a wealthy widow named Claire Zachanassian, who grew up in Brachen, where the musical takes place.  She is returning after a long absence and the townspeople hope that she will restore their dying, bankrupt town.  *If you don't know the play, spoilers will abound after this.*  Claire indeed says she will save the town, give them billions of dollars and provide each townsperson with a fortune, but for a price.  She wants her former lover, Anton Schell, killed.  The townspeople are appalled at first, but then of course, they're seduced by the promises of riches.

Dark, scary stuff.  This production has been streamlined to one act, about 95 minutes, and it's an expressionistic runaway train ride throughout.  Once the musical starts, it throttles towards the inevitable conclusion.  But the depth of hate and love and rage and despair and revenge is remarkable.  Most of the depths come from the remarkable woman at the center of this production, Chita Rivera.  She is monumental, truly spectacular, as this monster of a woman who wants revenge, but whose revenge is still tinged in love and regret.  Watching her see her younger self on stage and sharing moments of wonder with her soon-to-be-dead lover were incredibly heartbreaking.  At least for me.

photo credit: Joan Marcus
And Roger Rees, as Anton, stands up to her (theatrically speaking, of course).  He is a shabby, rundown person at the beginning of the show, but as he works through his consternation, his fear and finally his acceptance, Anton grows in stature and becomes the man he used to be, the man Claire loved, and he can again take his place at her side.  As a corpse, of course, but this is what constitutes a happy ending in this musical.

The songs have been orchestrated in such a way that they crescendo in all the right places, with a vaguely sinister sound underneath.  Though there are still recognizable beats of the Kander & Ebb sound throughout.  The song "You, You, You" is now done as a quartet, with the older and younger selves of Claire and Anton singing about their past, present and future - it was glorious.  And "Love and Love Alone," now staged as a solo for Claire and then it segues into a dance duet between Claire and her younger self, is a true theatrical treasure.  I also adored "The Only One," sung by the superlative Jason Danieley as the schoolteacher and one near-holdout who wants to save Anton but isn't strong enough to see it through. 

photo credit: Thom Kaine
The first and last confrontation scenes between Claire and Anton are shattering.  At least they were to me.  I guess, as a woman of a certain age who was rather 'wronged' at an early age, I could really feel the years of accumulated rage and pain that brought Claire to her current position.  But the scenes were so amazingly acted, I think even someone who had no clue about those kinds of feelings couldn't help but be moved.

The set, lights and costumes were terrific, but the makeup was a tad distracting - I'm not sure if they were going for some sort of expressionistic 'grime' or if I was just too close and the makeup looked too heavy.  And I will admit that when I heard John Doyle was directing this new incarnation, I was apprehensive.  I'm not completely on board with his approach and I really had a hard time with the last show of his that I saw.  I'm happy to report that I didn't have a huge problem with his work on The Visit, though every now and again I would think, oh my god, they're marching again!  I don't know what it is about the marching that intrigues him so...

photo credit: Gregg Delman
Oddly, there were sections of the audience who treated this production as if it were a Chita Rivera farewell tour cabaret.  They laughed heartily, whooped it up and didn't seem to be involved in the chilling action of the play.  I found that a tad disconcerting on occasion, but I was mainly so verklempt throughout, I could get past it. 

I also wanted to share a little seat neighbor and pre-show report.  On my way to the theater, my way was blocked by a group of kids doing the chicken dance in front of the Swatch store so no one could get by.  THE CHICKEN DANCE.  Seriously.  Dear tourists: don't do that.  No one likes it.  I finally got to the theater and found my seat, which was extremely house left, similar to my seat for the 2011 concert.  I was a little disappointed to be so far over again, but oh well.  I did have an enjoyable time listening to my seat neighbors discuss their likes and dislikes.  Like?  Between Riverside and the Happy Place (their title, not mine).  And then they were thrilled they got to see Between Riverside and the Happy Place because American Psycho didn't come in.  Which they pronounced American Pseeko.  The 'p' wasn't silent.  I kid you not.  It was a group of three ladies, two next to me and one in front.  There was an empty seat next to the lady in front.  After the first two numbers, ushers seated latecomers.  There was a latecomer for that empty seat and the lady in front was incensed.  INCENSED.  She actually got up to argue with the usher about having to take her coat off the seat.  These ladies were crazy.  Oh, and there was another gal who yelled at the usher who told her to go to her 'other right,' because when he said 'go to your right' and she went left, everyone was confused.  But 'other right' set her off even more.  I just kept thinking, people, we're going to see Chita.  Let's all just calm the f*ck down...  Oh, and the cell phones that kept ringing and ringing?  Someday I'm going to have to break a phone.  Turn them off, people.

Back to the show: I hope all of you are opening a new tab on your computers and buying tickets to The Visit right now.  I wish I could be a better reviewer and make you understand just what a wonderfully sad and beautiful experience this musical is.  And what amazing performances are being given by Chita Rivera and Roger Rees.  But even if you don't have time to see it right now, please just whisper a little prayer that the show doesn't get creamed in the papers tomorrow.  We need shows like this to offset the big, brassy musicals (which I also enjoy).  We need them all.

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