If you are looking for Chita Rivera to stun you with a big song and dance number in Kander and Ebb’s The Visit, you won’t get that. What you will get is a tour de force performance from one of Broadway’s most beloved veterans, worthy of a Tony Award.
Rivera plays the role of Claire Zachanassian, the wealthiest woman in the world, who amassed her fortune thanks through the deaths of several husbands. She returns to her home town (now bankrupt and poverty stricken) to wreak a little havoc – to seek revenge on the man who wronged her as a teenager and the townspeople who allowed this injustice to happen. Her wish is simple. She will restore the town and its residents to their former glory if the town sacrifices the life of her now aged lover, Anton Shell, played by Roger Rees. What unfolds is a haunting tale of scorned love, lies, greed and revenge.
Ms. Rivera has been with the show since the beginning, touring all over the country, finally landing on Broadway this season. I am not sure who else could – or should – play Claire. In a role that could have been written just for her, this amazing legend shines with an eerie and memorable performance playing the powerful villainess.
Rogers Rees is admirable in the role of Anton. His vulnerability and fear is a stark contrast to Rivera’s domineering Claire. Their story is told through both their eyes as older adults as well as the younger and carefree personas created by John Riddle and Michelle Ventimiglia who, with relatively little speaking, communicate their story more through dance. At one point, Claire’s happy memory of her romance with Anton results in a dance, with her younger self. This is one of the brighter moments of the show, and for Rivera fans, gives us a taste of the dancer she once was. For this fan, the moment that brought a tear to my eye. The supporting cast members do a fine job with their respective characters’ growth, progressing from the need to take the moral high road to their own self preservation and ultimately greed.
Kander and Ebb’s score is perfect for the show. While the show has no big, splashy, razzle-dazzle number, it is instead filled with mysterious melodies and haunting lyrics. While the lack of those big numbers might be considered a weakness of the show, that is not the case here. Everything fits together.
This will probably be Miss Rivera’s last starring role on Broadway. At 82, she has the perfect swan song to her illustrious career and she proves she is still a force to be reckoned with. Don’t wait to see her.