I need to go on the record stating I am a huge fan of Kander & Ebb and Terrence McNally. I have actually directed productions of Kiss of the Spider Woman and The Rink (where I had older versions of the characters watch their younger counterparts on stage; much like what happens through the entire musical of The Visit.) This writing team loves to write things that are edgy (Cabaret) or non traditional storytelling (Chicago). They know how to musically punctuate a moment with a crash or dissonance to heighten the entire experience of the show. They seem to have blended all of that in their musical The Visit.
A wealthy woman returns to the town of Brachen, Switzerland after years of being away. The town has fallen into disrepair and see her as a savior when she offers to give them money - but for a price. Her first love is still there and she has come back…for him. There are themes of greed, revenge, and love in this small chamber piece of a musical. The set is decaying and worn and the people look as if they have been left in another place and time. There is an eeriness to the piece reminiscent of Moulin Rouge or some stylized foreign film. There are all types of musical influences in this show. Some that sound like they came from other Kander & Ebb shows and others that are fresh and new. However, the one that really grabbed me was sung by the incredible Jason Danieley called "The Only One" which haunted me even after he had left the stage.
The main reason people are drawn to this piece is to see the remarkable Chita Rivera's return to Broadway. To think this woman has spent numerous decades on the Great White Way makes one realize they are in the presence of royalty. She has been involved with this show since 2001 and obviously knows this character very well. I bow to her greatness and understand why she has been remembered at Tony time for this role. However, I found myself drawn to Anton, her former lover, now played by Tom Nelis since Roger Rees has had to leave the show. He, like this entire cast full of Broadway vets such as David Garrison, Mary Beth Peil and Timothy Shew all have amazing voices. The sounds that reverberate through this gloomy stage are beautiful.
Yet for me, this Tony nominated best musical is missing something. And I think it sits on the shoulders of the often wonderful director John Doyle. All the elements are there and yet what should make the hair on your neck stand-on-end often times brings a chuckle instead. I didn't feel the direction matches the macabre feeling the piece is evoking. Nor did I ever get the torch that Claire so desperately carried for Anton. Instead, my heart went out for Anton - oddly enough, played by an actor who has spent the least amount of time invested in the role. I ached for him as everyone turned on him, even if his past had been so horrible towards Claire.
In the end, I left with many questions and thoughts about aging, death, and love. I suppose a good theater piece should send us out into the streets talking. In that case, this one has done what it set out to do. It's a shame it's not selling well and I can't help but wonder how much longer it will stay around after the Tony awards this Sunday. I'm truly glad I got to see the 82 year old Rivera once more on stage where she belongs.