Review: 'The Visit' on Broadway is chillingly good

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Posted: Apr 23, 2015 8:07 PM
Review: 'The Visit' on Broadway is chillingly good

NEW YORK (AP) — Trust a John Kander-Fred Ebb musical to make the sunny color of vitality and youth positively menacing.

In the dark, thrilling show, "The Visit," shoes, money and even tennis rackets turn yellow — a bad sign for one character whose life hangs in the balance.

In the works since 2001, "The Visit" opened Thursday at the Lyceum Theatre and is one of the last to open on Broadway this season. It seems like the adults have finally shown up.

The show stars Chita Rivera and Roger Rees, has a script by Terrence McNally, sets by Scott Pask, costumes by Ann Hould-Ward and is directed by John Doyle. All have Tonys and it shows.

The story, based on a 1956 Friedrich Durrenmatt play, centers on a billionaire, played by Rivera, who pays a visit to her hardship-stricken European birthplace. "I married very often and I widowed very well," she sings.

She has come for revenge. The billionaire offers the townsfolk a chance to be wealthy beyond their dreams if they agree to make her long-lost lover Anton suffer.

"There's going to be a happy ending," the townspeople sing. Don't count on it for everyone.

Soon, people start showing up with new shoes, expensive yellow ones. Anton — played sublimely by an anguished Rees — knows his friends and colleagues are planning for a windfall.

Kander has had to rewrite the music without lyricist Ebb, who died in 2004. His music is wonderfully complicated; some are fully fleshed out numbers and others seductive sketches that pull you in. He's added an Eastern European flavor, leaning on violins, an accordion and even a zither.

Pask's ruined set is like a gazebo in hell. Only glass shards have survived the neglect where the celling was and all the columns are choked by vines. It is lit by Japhy Weideman to be a cold and gloomy place. The yellow pops like gold.

Hould-Ward dresses the people of the town in shabby, dirty coats while Rivera arrives in pure white fur and satin and, of course, jewels. She has a surreal retinue of three men in tuxes and black hats who wear sunglasses, caked-on makeup and extravagant yellow shoes. They sing in falsettos and are utterly chilling.

McNally has cut down the musical to one act and the final version has two young actors playing the former lovers at age 17. Passionately choreographed by Graciela Daniele, the two (Michelle Veintimilla and John Riddle) sing and dance like ghosts amid the action.

Rivera is as elegantly regal, funny and sly as always. Her billionaire is haughty and irritable but there's simply no denying her. "I'm unkillable," the 82-year old icon says with a tiny, knowing smirk.

"The Visit" is sophisticated and beautiful and yet has that typical glorious chilling view of man that you expect from a Kander and Ebb show. It caps a season that already has had a revival of their "Cabaret" as well as their perennial hit "Chicago." It can visit anytime.

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Online: http://thevisitmusical.com