REVIEW: The Visit - Original Broadway Cast

Recording CoverWhen I saw the musical The Visit at the Williamstown Theatre Festival last summer, I must admit I found it a tough sell. Sure, there was talent abounding in the material and on stage (score by John Kander and Fred Ebb! book by Terrence McNally! starring theater legend Chita Rivera!), but the show (based on Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s 1956 play of the same name) is awfully grim. A woman Claire Zachanassian (Chita Rivera) returns to her childhood home to seek revenge on Anton Schell (Roger Rees) the man who, as a young boy, stole her heart but ruined her life. (Spoiler alert, Claire wants Anton killed and in turn will pay the destitute townspeople of Brachen to look the other way.) Between John Doyle’s direction and the set and lighting design by Scott Pask and Japhy Weideman, respectively, The Visit was a decidedly somber chiaroscuro affair that was hard to warm up to, and which might explain its short-lived life on Broadway when it transferred there this spring.

So given all that, it’s with much surprise but also joy to report that the cast recording of The Visit is one of the best new releases of this season. Stripped of the show’s dark visual cues, Kander and Ebb’s intriguing and wonderfully leitmotif-heavy score really soars on disc, inviting listeners to go on a romantic and moving theatrical journey. It may not be Kander and Ebb’s best score — stylistically and quality-level it’s on par with Zorba — but it’s quite good with a number of songs that linger, most notably “You, You, You” and “Love and Love Alone.” Rivera and Rees are accomplished veteran performers and while they might not possess the smoothest voices — Rivera is in her 80s — what they do possess in buckets is a deep commitment to their characters which comes through in their spoken dialogue and duets together. The childhood love affair that their characters shared feels visceral on the album as does Claire’s wonderful iciness and thirst for revenge in her songs “I Walk Away” and “Winter.”

Rivera and Rees are well-supported by a top-notch cast of supporting actors who both shine in their individual moments (Jason Danieley is excellent as the School Master in “The Only One”) and in multiple group choral numbers, especially the toe-tapping showstopper “Yellow Shoes,” which have those instantly recognizable Kander vamping chords. Also delightful are Matthew Deming and Chris Newcomer as Claire’s two henchmen who, having been castrated by Claire, sing in gorgeous falsetto in “I Would Never Leave You” and "Eunuch's Testimony." The orchestra might be small at just nine players, but it’s a tight ensemble that sounds terrific playing Larry Hochman’s orchestrations with folksy hints of accordion and mandolin woven throughout. Kudos as well to Broadway Records not only for preserving this short-lived show, but for producing such a handsome CD with lots of photos from the production, complete lyrics, essays by McNally and director Doyle, in a booklet designed in the show's signature yellow color.

It’s unlikely that The Visit will see a lot of future productions, but how great for future generations to have a top-notch beautiful recording of the last Broadway show by Kander and Ebb.


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