Rating: 3.5/5 stars
Ohhhhhh Chita. The woman, the myth, the legend. What a strange, strange show. And with a LOT of big names attached besides Chita. Directed by John Doyle (Sweeney Todd, Company), book by Terrence McNally (Ragtime, It's Only a Play), choreographed by our client Graciela Daniele (Annie Get Your Gun, Ragtime), and music/lyrics by Kander and Ebb (Cabaret, Chicago). And this was the last show Kander and Ebb wrote together before Fred Ebb passed away in 2004. Not only that, this show has been working it's way up to Broadway for over 13 years and Chita has hinted this may be her last show on Broadway. Seems like a lot of pressure...
I got to attend the opening this past Thursday night because I got a free ticket through my job! It was the last opening of the season since the Tony nominations came out yesterday morning (congrats to The Visit's 5 nominations!). No more new shows until July thank goodness...this season has been crazy! This show has gone a bit unnoticed just because it's so late in the season and there are a plethora of shows to see, but the people who are going are going to see Chita...and so should you. Her entrance is one to remember. She comes on from upstage left with a bright light behind her and her entourage leading her on. She walks completely downstage and stares at the audience with this "who the F are you" look. This woman has two Tony awards and originated the role of Anita in West Side Story on Broadway. In that moment you just get it. And for the rest of the show, you feel honored to be there.
To set the scene, this is a very dark musical. The lights are low and creepy and the set is an old, almost abandoned train station with these beautiful columns with vines in the background. There are no real set pieces except for black suitcases that get moved and rearranged by the cast and a black coffin that is the centerpiece of almost every scene. The townspeople are wearing old, tattered, and dark clothing. And then Chita arrives in this luxurious white gown with her butler and two eunichs outfitted in tuxedos, sunglasses, and bright yellow accessories. Bizarre doesn't really begin to cover it. To quickly sum up the plot, Claire Zachanassian (Chita) returns to her now poor childhood home as a rich widow after many decades. The townspeople hope she will take pity and give them money, which she plans on doing, but only on one condition that relates to her ex-lover (Roger Rees) who wronged her many years ago. The story is about their old love and what a desperate town will do. Throughout the musical, Chita and Roger have dancing shadows of their younger selves that act out old memories as well as watch their older selves.
It very much reminded me of what Waiting for Godot as a musical would look like. Also a bit of The Nightmare Before Christmas and The Muppet's Christmas Carol ghost of Christmas future. Strange...I know. There's a song where all the townspeople buy yellow shoes and dance with them and it's just freaky. So you may be saying, whoa, that sounds kinda cool, why didn't you rate it higher? Well because there were a few things that didn't work me. For a show that was labeled and presented as dark, it really glossed over the darker moments of the show. The music, although very beautiful and lovely to listen to, wasn't very dark or different. Many of the songs blended together. And the songs seemed to really halt the plot that already was moving very slowly. Roger Rees' character didn't have much of an arc for being the other lead and the story gave us no reason to really care about the townspeople. Shoutout to Jason Danieley's (the school teacher) song that out of nowhere was vocally heart-wrenching and incredibly impressive.
I don't believe this show exists without Chita and part of why it works is because it's made up of all these legends that are close friends. The curtain call was so touching because they all came on stage (Doyle, McNally, Daniele, and Kander) and hugged each other so fiercely. Musicals can take soooo long to get to Broadway, even if you are Kander & Ebb. So there's something very moving to see people say "we finally made it."
Who should see this show:
- If you are a Chita fan and want to see a Broadway legend
- If you like darker, weirder shows
- If you love Kander & Ebb music
How to get tickets:
- On tdf.org for $45
- $25 balcony seats, $69 mezz: http://www.playbill.com/club/offer_detail/the-visit
- Regular tickets: https://www.telecharge.com/Broadway/The-Visit/Overview
- $29 student rush tickets day of show at the box office