Review Roundup: THE VISIT Opens on Broadway - All the Reviews!
The Visit, the final musical ever by legendary Tony Award-winning duo John Kander and Fred Ebb, celebrates its opening tonight, April 23, 2015 at the Lyceum Theatre (149 West 45th Street).
The cast is led by Tony Award winners Chita Rivera as Claire Zachannassian and Roger Rees as Anton Schell, with George Abud as Karl, Jason Danieley as Frederich Kuhn, Matthew Demingas Louis Perch, Diana Dimarzio as Annie Dummermut, Tony Award nominee David Garrison as Peter Dummermut, Rick Holmes as Father Josef, Tom Nelis as Rudi, Chris Newcomer as Jacob Chicken, Mary Beth Peil as Matilde Schell, Aaron Ramey as Otto Hahnke, Elena Shadow as Ottilie, Timothy Shew as Hans Nusselin, with John Riddleand Michelle Veintimilla.
Based on the satirical play by Friedrich Dürrenmatt as adapted by Maurice Valency, The Visit features music and lyrics by the Tony Award-winning team John Kander & Fred Ebb, book by four-time Tony Award-winning playwright Terrence McNally. Helmed by Tony Award-winning director John Doyle, The Visit is choreographed by Tony Award-nominee Graciela Daniele.
In her juiciest role yet, Chita Rivera is Claire Zachannassian, the world's wealthiest woman, who returns home to Anton Schell (Roger Rees) who captured her heart then shattered her dreams. What she does next shocks the town and makes for the most thrilling and intriguing musical in years. This tale of romance, seduction and betrayal proves that the best revenge is revenge.
Let's see what the critics had to say...
Ben Brantley, The New York Times: ...despite a score that at its best has the flavor of darkest chocolate..."The Visit" only rarely shakes off a stasis that suggests a carefully carved mausoleum frieze. Nor does the show ever quite make peace between its uneasily twinned strands of merciless cynicism and a softer sentimentality...The show's cynical and morbid components are more persuasive, if a tad monotonous...That "The Visit" still holds the attention has much to do with Ms. Rivera's command of the stage and her ability to find a concerto of feelings in what might have been a single-note role...Her singing voice, sharp-edged and resonant, is identifiably that of the original Anita in "West Side Story" but invested with an authoritative, all-knowing world-weariness.
Mark Kennedy, Associated Press: Trust a John Kander-Fred Ebb musical to make the sunny color of vitality and youth positively menacing...[Kander's] music is wonderfully complicated; some are fully fleshed out numbers and others seductive sketches that pull you in...Hould-Ward...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...Rivera is as elegantly regal, funny and sly as always. Her billionaire is haughty and irritable but there's simply no denying her..."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.
Marilyn Stasio, Variety: The show is more literary piece than conventional musical. But it has a dark, sinister beauty -- and who could resist a visit from Chita?...And what a commanding figure she strikes...Like the play, McNally's musical treatment of the central dilemma doesn't add much tension to what seems a foregone conclusion. And, like the play, it begins well and ends well, but sags in the middle. The real problem, it seems, is the inadequacy of Anton's soul-searching about his own guilt. Rees looks very much like someone who's going through hell, and he expresses it well in "Fear." But this morally shabby character hasn't got an ethical leg to stand on. Kander just can't help himself. Even in what may well be his darkest work, he writes beautiful romantic melodies.
David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: It's an arresting vehicle for the indomitable Chita Rivera...she remains a uniquely steely stage presence at 82 -- graceful, dignified and commanding...The dramatic weak point is Anton. While Rees is a fine, sensitive actor, there's something unsatisfying about the way his role is drawn...Doyle and company access the mordant absurdist humor of Durrenmatt's work, but the chilling social and political critique...is diluted in the streamlined show...The big issue is one of repetitiveness, as McNally treads similar ground from character to character, without much complexity...Even Kander's score, with its lethargic but insistent Kurt Weill-style oom-pah circus rhythms, has a sameness at times...One of the production's rewards is the thrilling choral singing and exquisitely textured harmonies. But unquestionably, the reason to see The Visit, even with its flaws, is the star, whose brittle vocals cut like ice.
Elysa Gardner, USA Today: The excellent Roger Rees gives a nuanced, moving performance as the older Anton, and John Riddle embodies masculine grace playing him as a young man. But as Riddle and Veintimilla watch and shadow the more mature stars -- dancing and sometimes singing -- the mood becomes one of melancholy longing, bordering on melodrama. This seems at odds with the Brechtian vibe established by the severe-looking townsfolk surrounding them...In 100 minutes, Doyle thoughtfully touches on a range of subjects: mortality, bigotry, greed, revenge, regret...Ultimately, the show's most valuable asset is Rivera. Walking with a cane, the 82-year-old powerhouse expertly conveys her character's fragility and acerbic wit. Yet even while playing a woman who has been broken by bitterness, Rivera can't help but be a transcendent force. Her presence alone makes The Visit worth the trip.
Linda Winer, Newsday: "The Visit" is a haunting, haunted knot of Expressionist storytelling, a masterly 100-minute powerhouse with liltingly gruesome songs that create their own macabre world unlike anything onstage in recent memory. This will not be everyone's idea of a night on the town. But Rivera, an astonishing 82, is riveting as the mysterious, vengeful grand dame...Roger Rees is shattering, brimming with hapless vanity, as the pathetic shopkeeper who broke her heart so many years ago. Under John Doyle's taut, unflinching and strangely enchanting direction...the chamber work has the feel of a dark European fable -- albeit one with timeless theatricality. The music is woozy with disturbing dance rhythms, dripping with music-box sarcasm...Then there is Rivera, with her steely, gravelly voice and the resolve of a character who says, "I am unkillable." We dare you to take your eyes off her.
Terry Teachout, Wall Street Journal: "The Visit" is a cynical tragicomedy whose score is as gorgeous as its heart is hard...Kander's soaring, waltz-scented love songs are harmonized in an off-center manner subtly suggestive of dirty work at the crossroads...As for Ms. Rivera, who sounds like a cross between Hermione Gingold and Rex Harrison and is made up to resemble a walking mummy, she's all too terrifyingly believable as Claire...Mr. Rees, by contrast, is rather too ingratiating, and Mr. McNally's jokey book softens the impact of the play...But "The Visit" is horrifically potent in every other way..."The Visit" isn't for everyone. But Mr. Kander and his late, lamented partner never wrote a finer score, and...you'll thrill to their cruel tale of what men who dare to call themselves decent will do to one another if the price is right.
David Cote, Time Out NY: The version now on Broadway is the same I caught last summer at Williamstown Theatre Festival, and it remains fascinating and alluring, if finally repetitive and frustrating...studded with Kander & Ebb's Weill-and-vamp song stylings (however sleek and insinuating), it becomes a musical where the numbers retard the forward motion, which is, anyway, linear and predicable: Claire will have her revenge, and corruptible society will help her. Great acting wouldn't turn the mismatch into a great musical, but it also wouldn't hurt: Rivera, of course, is naturally commanding and regal, but a better dramatic actor would squeeze more mileage from Claire's mix of sadism and self-pity. Rees does well playing Schell as a husk of a man, but his Rex Harrison school of speak-singing drains power from the songs.
Robert Kahn, NBC New York: Never trust a woman who travels with her own coffin. That's one big takeaway from "The Visit," the thought-provoking and -- there's no other word for the experience -- bizarre musical...Rivera is provocative as Claire. The venerable actress is on stage for most of the production, and gets in a few chorus line kicks here and there...The two-time Tony winner has an entrance, in billowy white fur coat and hat, that's as thrilling as you'd want it to be...Rivera is solid, but it's the melancholy and soulfulness in Rees's performance that holds back "The Visit" from any risk of sliding into a parody of itself...Do everything in your powers to avoid having the ending spoiled.
Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News: Revenge is a dish served tepid in "The Visit." The warmth hobbles this stark musical fable by John Kander, Fred Ebb and Terrence McNally. With this team, the show is certainly worthwhile. But it could really send shivers -- and doesn't. "The Visit" pulls its punches...The score echoes earlier rhythms and melodies of Kander and Ebb and provides an evocative backdrop. Rivera's husky voice and high-watt charisma go a long way here. And it would have worked even better if director John Doyle's staging was less polite. Scott Pask's skeletal set and Ann Hould-Ward's raggedy clothes scream decay. But the performances don't go there...Wildcat? No. Claire and "The Visit" are too domesticated for their own good.
Elisabeth Vincentelli, New York Post: It's Chita Rivera's world: We just live in it. This works out very well for the Kander and Ebb musical "The Visit," in which the charismatic star plays a billionairess who buys her hometown...It being by John Kander and the late Fred Ebb...delights in uncovering greed, hypocrisy and the perversion of justice. Admittedly, this isn't their strongest score...The ensemble is impeccable, save for Rees, who looked visibly uncomfortable at a recent performance and whose singing is serviceable at best. But "The Visit" is Claire, and Rivera..."I'm unkillable," Claire says. And you may find yourself wishing Rivera could also go on forever.
Matt Windman, AM New York: Although it makes for a provocative thriller, the score is weak, dreary and derivative of Kander and Ebb's earlier work. Considering how Rivera and Rees are limited vocally, it may sound better with stronger singers. Doyle's streamlined and ultra-stylized production...is visually striking, but perhaps too ghoulish for its own good -- to the point of being excessively creepy and gloomy. Take, for instance, the two blind eunuchs who follow Clara around, wear clown makeup and speak in falsetto. Rivera, unquestionably a Broadway treasure, has the star quality and grand composure to play the diva-like Claire. By comparison, Rees portrays Anton as a sad, broken man, all too willing to meet his dismal fate.
Jesse Green, Vulture: ...the version that has now arrived at the Lyceum represents not only a triumph of persistence but a distillation of many years' worth of theatrical savvy. It is as lean and as sere as a skeleton...Doyle is expert at stripping away the surface decoration and audience sops that can detract from the seriousness of the form...With The Visit, this creates a certain tension, though. You have, on one hand, the unimpeachably cold -- almost terrifying -- production design...On the other hand, you have Rivera, whom everyone adores and hopes to see succeed in a challenging role at age 82. This a tension that's useful, at least insofar as it puts the audience in sympathy with the devil...The songs, too, pull in two directions...The better the songs are, the weirder the show gets...Alienation and gregariousness make strange co-stars, but then so did Kander and Ebb. What a joy to have them back on Broadway and to think that, even half-dead, they're unkillable.
Jeremy Gerard, Deadline: ...the show has deepened greatly since that first preview, resulting in a genuinely disturbing show that also will satisfy fans of Rivera, who at 82 can still belt it out to the far reaches of the balcony...Rivera is an incomparable trouper but I must admit her vocal charms are lost on me. The greater disappointment, however, is Rees, whose singing is simply painful to endure. His Anton is a small, broken man...Kander's music has never stopped evolving in its beauty, complexity and breadth, and the melodies here get under your skin even if the lyrics are not up to Ebb's best. McNally's compressed book does the job elegantly.
Robert Hofler, TheWrap: Claire is Durrenmatt's vengeful god, out to make life a living hell for the townspeople who done her wrong long ago...The billionaire Claire is anything but a dame or a broad and she's certainly no Broadway gypsy. Which is what gives Rivera's performance such resonance and power: She's cast way against type, and at age 82 she exposes a facet of her stage persona never seen before. Amazing! Rivera is well matched by Rees...Rees's Anton gets it coming and going. Rees doesn't possess a good singing voice...His acting, though, carries the performance.
Ronni Reich, The Star-Ledger: The work is both recognizable Kander and Ebb style and a departure and is the last they created together...it comes across as something of a morality play or fable. Its book by Terrence McNally relies on symbolism and ideas more than multifaceted characters. Director John Doyle's staging and the music both call to mind a contemporary oratorio, with the company facing front for much of the staging and a score that pulls in dissonance, percussive noise and intricate textures. The form is fascinating, as are the central issues and the strangeness of the piece...But the book and lyrics can be blunt and redundant...As Claire...Rivera...savors her dry punch lines. Still, at this stage in her venerable career, she's mostly speak-singing, even when there's an appealingly eerie chorus of her countertenor eunuchs to back her. Roger Rees telegraphs excitement in his scenes with her, and we feel the weight on him as he considers his possibilities.
Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune: Watching Rees and Rivera...On Broadway, it feels far sadder and more plaintive, and perhaps a commentary on Europe's less than stellar record with outsiders. Most of all, though, "The Visit" now feels to be about the pain of growing older and, however rich we may or may not have grown, our inability to assuage our past mistakes, or even stop the demons that thud in our chests...It remains a weird musical, of course...Rivera is older now, and thus her Claire's determination for finality, her lack of any fear of anyone's death, makes more sense, especially when surrounded by Rees' cagey sadness (his performance is so complex and credible, it unlocks much previously hidden). Doyle, as one might expect from his past work, eschews literal staging. That works for this piece, aside from a few too many swings of a coffin.
Richard Seff, DC Metro Theater Arts: ...The Visit offers [Rivera] the best role of her illustrious career, and she plays it like the great star she has become. It's difficult material, but Terrence McNally's book and the Kander and Ebb score have turned what could have been murky and painful to watch, into a melodic and adult story of true love gone wrong and it is mesmerizing. Slowly, as the townspeople turn from outrage to greed, we follow with interest because never do the writers or director allow it to become less than layered and believable...Anyone truly moved by great theatre will enjoy this...Rivera's stillness, her ability to convey all the heartbreak she's known, retaining just enough wit and humor to make her totally accessible to us, are remarkable, the fulfilled promise she showed in her early outings on Broadway.
Steven Suskin, Huffington Post: What remains--from my seat on the aisle, anyway--is non-gripping, non-chilling and non-savage; a toothless shell of the Dürrenmatt, with the bite removed. We do get four characteristically interesting Kander & Ebb songs ("I Walk Away," "You, You, You," "I Will Never Leave You," "Love and Love Again"), and the 82-year-old Chita in what could well be her final Broadway musical. Not enough. An interesting show, to be sure; but in this crowded April, with at least ten intriguing new productions on view, I wonder whether this Visit is quite worth the visit.
Alexis Soloski, Guardian: The pleasure in her performance and in Rees's and of Jason Danieley in the small role of the schoolmaster eclipse the blurriness of the story The Visit wants to tell. But only for a while. Though the show runs only 100 minutes, there's surely room for more plot and more emotional arc than it provides. And despite the omnipresence of a young Anton and a young Claire, sighing and swaying and occasionally screwing in the background, it can't really sell itself as a swoony weepie, however nice the ballads, particularly as it's in the more macabre numbers - "Yellow Shoes", "I Will Never Leave You" - that the tone seems most confident. However fine the songs and the set, it may not be visiting Broadway very long.