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Review Roundup: THE VISITOR Opens at The Public Theater- The Critics Weigh In!


See what the critics are saying about the new musical from the Tom Kitt, Brian Yorkey, and Kwame Kwei-Armah.

The Visitor

The world premiere musical The Visitor, with music by Pulitzer Prize winner Tom Kitt, lyrics by Pulitzer Prize winner Brian Yorkey and a book by Kwame Kwei-Armah and Brian Yorkey, opened tonight at The Public Theater.

Widowed and living alone, Walter is a college professor whose life has lost a sense of purpose. When Tarek, a vivacious drummer, and Zainab, an iron-willed jewelry maker, enter his life in the most unexpected circumstances, Walter is swept up into their struggle to stay in an America that they have made their home, but seeks to cast them out. Tony winner Daniel Sullivan directs this unforgettable new musical about friends and lovers caught between two worlds.

The complete cast of The Visitor features Jacqueline Antaramian (Mouna), Robert Ariza (Ensemble), Anthony Chan (Ensemble), Alysha Deslorieux (Zainab), Delius Doherty (Ensemble), C.K. Edwards (Ensemble), Will Erat (Ensemble), Brandon Espinoza (Ensemble), Sean Ewing (Ensemble), Albert Guerzon (Swing), Crystal Joy (Swing), Marla Louissaint (Ensemble), Ahmad Maksoud (Tarek), Sahar Milani (Swing), Dimitri Joseph Moïse (Ensemble), Takafumi Nikaido (Ensemble/Drummer), David Hyde Pierce (Walter), Paul Pontrelli (Ensemble), and Katie Terza (Ensemble).

The show features choreography by Lorin Latarro, and direction by Tony Award winner Daniel Sullivan, based on the Groundswell Productions and Participant Media Motion Picture written by Thomas McCarthy. Featuring scenic design by David Zinn; costume design by Toni-Leslie James; lighting design by Japhy Weideman; sound design by Jessica Paz and Sun Hee Kil; video design by David Bengali and Hana S. Kim; hair, wigs, and make-up design by Matthew Armentrout; prop management by Claire M. Kavanah; fight direction by Thomas Schall; orchestrations by Jamshied Sharifi; music supervision by Meg Zervoulis; music direction by Rick Edinger; and music contracting by Tomoko Akaboshi. James Latus serves as production stage manager.

Maya Phillips, The New York Times: What comes to mind when you think about immigration, ICE and deportation? I'(M) Willing to bet more than a few George Washingtons that it's not "musical." Perhaps it is doable to respect the politics around these issues and the immigrants trying to build a life in the United States in this format, but it's tough. Which is why the new musical "The Visitor" feels so obtuse and helplessly dated.

Ayanna Prescod, Variety: The djembe drum is the sacred heartbeat of West Africa, a powerful instrument conveying messages of struggle and liberation for African people. Traditionally used by griots to connect history and culture to younger generations, the djembe is at the center of The Public Theater's production of "The Visitor" - but in this new musical by the Pulitzer-winning duo behind "Next to Normal," Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey, the drum's historical context goes unacknowledged and its purpose gets corrupted. The musical feels like a slap in the face.

Adam Feldman, Time Out New York: The irony is that although The Visitor plays like a blunt plea for wokeness, its nearly exclusive focus on the white man's journey is fundamentally unwoke by nature; the show wrestles this problem to a loss, and seems to know it has been overpowered. Watching the production, one gets the sense of talented artists who have dragged themselves to the finish line with whatever they could salvage from a misbegotten project.

Tim Teeman, The Daily Beast: Its makers proudly vouch for the politics of the show, which in earnest, emphatic terms illustrates the appalling way undocumented immigrants are treated in America. This is a musical-music by Tom Kitt, lyrics by Brian Yorkey, book by Yorkey and Kwame Kwei-Armah-that is a stage adaptation of Tom McCarthy's 2007 film of the same name. The Public hopes the musical makes a timely and piercing point about prejudice, allyship, rigidly unfair laws, and racial injustice. But it does not, and it also doesn't work as musical theater. Indeed, it falls listlessly, cringingly short.

Juan A. Ramirez, Theatrely: Following a poignant, if unoriginal, beginning, it winds up being little more than a White savior narrative in which people of color are handed insurmountable strife in order for a better-positioned person to learn a lesson about the importance of caring about basic humanity. Walter is not hinted to have ever been a heartless person-which renders his epiphany rather moot-but the book defaults to the tired trope, giving him an out-of-nowhere 11 o'clock nowhere in which he begs society to change. Yorkey's lyrics, which swing wildly between touching introspections and unforgivably corny sermons to an exhausted choir, take a similar nosedive as the musical goes on. An ode to New York's imperious statue called "Lady Liberty" seems like a deleted first draft from The Simpsons, but is a haven of nuanced originality when compared to "Drum Circle." Perhaps the most egregious number in the score, it is a regurgitation of The Lion King's "Circle of Life" that only worsens when reprised as the show's finale: a borderline-offensive sendoff to characters whose lives are spun in shockingly different ways.

Frank Scheck: New York Stage Review: There's a lot of drama in The Public Theater's The Visitor, a musical adaptation of the well-received 2007 film. Unfortunately, most of it took place offstage for this production which lost one of its leading players during previews and has gone through significant behind-the-scenes turmoil over its depictions of race and representation. It would be a pleasure to report that the show featuring a score by Pulitzer and Tony winners Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey (Next to Normal, If/Then) has triumphed over its rocky creative process, but it never fully comes to life despite some noteworthy qualities and fine performances. It's a perfectly respectable effort that feels more dutiful than inspired.

Melissa Rose Bernardo, New York Stage Review: It's easy to write off The Visitor as a white savior story. (Though technically, no one is saved; considering that we're talking about 14-year-old movie source material, it's not a spoiler to say there are no happy endings for anyone.) Beyond that, considering the team involved-including director Daniel Sullivan-it's simply a letdown.

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