Claire Zachanassian’s (Chita Rivera) entrance is eagerly awaited by both the downtrodden townspeople of Brachen Switzerland – thinking she will save them – and New York audiences anxious to see their beloved legend at the Lyceum Theatre in this “artsy” one act musical of the 1956 play by Friedrich Durrenmatt by Kander & Ebb with a new book by Terrence McNally. She doesn’t disappoint. Mostly.
With a sweep of her arms, with a kick here and there, with a swish of her skirt we remember Chita. We remember what a marvelous dancer and entertainer she was and continues to be. We are seeing her through our eyes of the past. With her raspy but distinctive voice she talk/sings her songs. She is a riveting presence but she falls a bit short in delivering the inherent nastiness that Claire ought to have in spades. Does it matter? Not really.
She’s a trouper. A real honest to goodness Broadway Baby. Looking elegant and regal in her white gown designed by Anna Hould-Ward. Her bejeweled neck dazzles and she indeed looks the part of the wealthiest woman in the world (half Jewish/half Gyspy who has had six husbands) returning to her homeland seeking revenge on the love of her life – her first love – Anton Schell (an excellent Roger Rees) a lowly shopkeeper who abandoned Claire when she was pregnant with their child to marry Matilde (Mary Beth Peil) whose father owned the shop he now runs.
Claire was forced to flee Brachen and has been plotting ever since to retaliate for Anton’s abandonment, arriving in town with a coffin, her butler Rudi (Tom Nelis) and eunuchs Louis Perch (Matthew Deming) and Jacob Chicken (Chris Newcomer) wearing the as yet to become fashionable and best-selling (on credit) yellow shoes. Over the years she lost a leg and an arm but made up for it by concentrating on amassing wealth.
Director John Doyle and company haven’t really decided if this production should be expressionistic, Brechtian or mainstream. McNally’s book at times is pure musical comedy with not enough sting. There is a little bit of everything which makes for an uneven presentation. All those “yellow” props become distracting as “symbols.”
But the addition of a young “wild-cat” Claire (Michelle Veintimilla) and a young “panther” Anton (a striking John Riddle) is a brilliant touch throughout.
Claire will help the town financially but they must murder Anton so that she can take him away to Capri. Will greed win out? Is Chita the reigning Queen of Broadway?
The score is serviceable with a beautiful and memorable “You, You, You.” We are hearing the best past strains of Kander and Ebb and so we make do. The score has been expertly arranged and orchestrated by David Loud and Larry Hochman respectively and the graceful choreography by Graciela Daniele keeps the show moving along romantically with a touch of the macabre.
Over the years (fourteen to be exact) this musical has had a series of face lifts resulting in this uneven production that sports some magical moments and some wrinkles along the way. www.thevisitmusical.com
Photos: Joan Marcus & Thom Kaine
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