The Visit stars Chita Rivera and John McMartin

The Visit stars Chita Rivera and John McMartin

By Edith McCauley

By Edith McCauley

Theater Critic

Based on Friedrich Durrematt’s 1958 play, the musical version of The Visit features a collaboration of artists with impeccable credentials: John Kander and Fred Ebb, Music and Lyrics; Terrence McNally, Book; Ann Reinking, Choreography; and Frank Galati, Director. Through a series of associations on previous works, they have come together as Galati states, “to bring Durrematt’s original play to a different level.”

As the richest woman in the world, Chita Rivera as Claire Zachanassian returns to Brachen, a village in the Swiss Alps, on a vengeful mission. Her love affair with Anton Schell (John McMartin) had ended in a disastrous pregnancy. A Gypsy and a Jew, she was completely rejected by the Townspeople, and Anton chooses marriage with the daughter of a prosperous shopkeeper. Her plot for retribution takes years, and in a triumphant return, she makes an offer the villagers can’t refuse, a financial bailout for Anton’s life. Silks, furs and a mountain of luggage define her, and with her strange retinue she sings, “At Last.” The Townspeople, delirious with joy at the thought of rescue from poverty, respond with “A Happy Ending.”

In the Prologue, Tina Cannon as Young Claire and Brian Herriot as Young Anton, move dreamily through the forest. Cannon’s beautiful movements recall the moments of innocent love so brutally destroyed by Anton’s need for financial security. McMartin returns to the forest to reminisce and sings, “You, You, You”, reaffirming his love for Claire. The Mayor (Mark Jacoby) leads the way by convincing his community that Anton’s life and financial security are an even trade-off. The yellow shoes in Anton’s shop, far too expensive for his customers, become the metaphor for intrigue. Closing Act I, “Yellow Shoes” displays the entire cast shod in the incriminating footwear, dancing and singing in the town square. In spite of an upbeat tempo, the evil remains.

Rivera’s “Love and Love Alone” symbolizes a love overpowered by such deep-seated anger that she will kill rather than relent. She was chosen for the role of Claire based on her outstanding talent and a long relationship with Kander and Ebb. A career dancer, an accident in 1968 left her with 12 bolts in her leg. She still excels, but as Claire moving with a cane, dancing becomes, as she states, “Acting… as long as you can get that wonderful movement of life in your body, even when you’re not dancing per se, it’s still beautiful movement; it’s still dance.” (Stagebill, Sept. 2001)

The Visit incorporates every aspect of a successful musical: stunning sets, a professional equity cast, Rivera and McMartin, acclaimed Broadway stars, and a production team unequaled in theater. Timing is everything, and the current state of show business on Broadway is tenuous. An opening in New York will take more than a little luck. A country-wide tour might be more feasible. Many shows previewed in Chicago need fine tuning. The Visit is close to perfection. Running through Nov. 3, it is well worth a drive to the city.

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!