The show: The musical "The Visit" at Williamstown Theatre Festival.
What makes it special?: It's a new version of the musical written by Terrence McNally, with music by John Kander and Fred Ebb, directed by John Doyle, starring Chita Rivera and Roger Rees.
First impressions: After "Cabaret," "Chicago," "Kiss of the Spider Woman" and "The Scottsboro Boys," who better to musicalize this dark and sardonic morality tale with razzle-dazzle than composer John Kander and his lyricist partner, the late Fred Ebb.
But those shows have a dramatic show biz motif (nightclub, vaudeville, minstrel show, film fantasy) to hang their dark tales. Here the highly-stylized show based on Swiss playwright Friedrich Durrenmatt's 1956 play never quite finds a confident and consistent tone, as it veers from romance to Expressionism . But it's still a dandy story, often tuneful and it's great seeing Chita Rivera, at 81 starring in a (somewhat) new Kander and Ebb musical (she was the original Velma Kelly in "Chicago" and that Spider Woman) in a role that allows her to kick up her heel.
You mean heels: No, her character has one leg. And she also lost an arm during her many marriages and adventures as she accumulated her vast fortune that made her the richest woman in the world.
What's it about? Claire Zachanassian returns to her impoverished hometown somewhere in Europe seeking revenge on a lover Anton Schell (a splendid Roger Rees) who did her wrong when she was a young girl in that burgh. The fact that this icy dowager is using her billions to tempt a desperate town to do a horrific act, makes it especially intriguing. And who says you can't go home again?
The towns folk are initially appalled by the offer but Claire is serenely cool. "I'll wait," she says knowingly. And before you can cue another song, things start to change as the townspeople start buying things on credit, which is never a good sign. For some reason, there's a rush to buy yellow shoes.
Yellow shoes?: The show is very symbolic. Yellow shoes, Blind eunuchs. Many black expensive-looking pieces of luggage that the characters carry around. It's a parable about greed and human nature. And maybe footwear.
So does he get killed?: No spoiler here, but love never dies, which may not be as chilling as Durrenmatt but satisfying in its own way never-the-less.
What's the back story to the show?: The show premiered in 2001 in Chicago but then 9/11 happened and the dough — and the mood — wasn't there to transfer the show to Broadway. There n about rotten people. Ebb died in 2004 but the show continued to be developed and there was a production in 2008 at Virginia's Signature Theatre. Again mixed reviews and the world's economies took a nose dive no no-go to NYC.
But now with a new esteemed director (Doyle staged Broadway's spare and acclaimed revivals of "Sweeney Todd" and "Company") a new leading man (and former artistic director at WTF) and choreographer (Graciela Daniele), it's having another bite of the Not-Quite-Big-Apple. But this version is considerably shorter, 90 minutes with no intermission compared to almost 2 1/2 hours and two acts from its previous incarnation.
But short is often good, no?: Absolutely, but it's not just lean, it's anorexic. Other than the two leading characters, everyone seems like a cartoon cutout. I respect economical writing and understand the use of archetypes but it seems out of balance with the human and romantic aspects it clearly wants to make.
What's the show's future?: Still to be determined but for a summer show in the Berkshires it's one of the hottest tickets and the musical has much to be admired, several terrific numbers and a fine ensemble.
Who will like it?: Fans of Chita and Kander and Ebb. Twisted romantics. Gordon Gekko.
Who won't?: The Swiss.
For the kids?: Pretty cynical stuff here but some teens will like it, though I'm not sure who they would be rooting for. Remember "Heathers?"
Twitter review in 140 characters or less: Entertaining but less-than-satisfying production but with Chita in ermine and back with a vengeance, it's still worth a re-'Visit'
The basics: The show runs though Aug. 17 at the '62 Center for Theater & Dance, 1000 Main St., Williamstown, Mass., as part of the Williamstown Theatre Festival. Information: www.wtfestival.org and 413-597-3400.
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