As Claire Zachanassian, the richest woman in the world, Chita Rivera makes an outrageous demand in Friedrich Durrenmatt's 1956 The Visit. Now a show at the Lyceum Theater, with Terrence McNally's book, John Kander and Fred Ebb's music and choreography by Graciela Daniele, whether or not The Visit wins its Best Musical Tony, the show is one of best on Broadway -- a deeply satisfying 90-minute parable with historic dimension.
Badly-done-to in her youth by her lover, and then by the town folk of Brachen, Switzerland, Claire wants justice. First glimpsed, the citizens look ashen and gaunt, evoking those forced into concentration camps so close by, and yet so far. Staged with a Scott Pask's bare bones set, and with Kander and Ebb's music, evoking Kurt Weill, The Visit is a parable of postwar Europe: Anyone can cross the line, especially when morality is easily corruptible in the face of racism. Lofty intellectual principles can be skewed, ideals lowered and lost as Claire, obsessed with her lost youth, offers the town her wealth if they will kill Anton (Roger Rees), the "unmenschlech" man who ruined her.
Aghast at this suggestion, the town gets used to the idea as it accommodates to luxury, singing "Yellow Shoes," symbolic of its new comfort level. Most poignant is the vision of Claire observing her young and foolish self (Michelle Veintimilla) when they sing and dance "In the Forest Again." Roger Rees is fine as Anton, and John Riddle as his younger self is a believable hunk, but this is Chita Rivera's show. At the final applause, Rees and Rivera kiss, he giving the audience a sly wink over her shoulder. He's won her again.
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