I’ve been lucky lately that I’ve been able to score some deeply discounted tickets to see Broadway shows. Because I handle my organizations social media – among many other things – I spend a fair amount of time on Twitter every day which has been a crucial tool in my quest maximize my opportunities while minimizing my expense. My entertainment budget (in as much as I have one) will go a lot further when I can find some deals and I feel more comfortable taking a chance on a new play that I don’t know much about when the tickets are $20. That’s exactly what happened when the chance arose to see the Tony nominated musical The Visit. I didn’t know anything about it other than the Tony nomination and that it starred the legendary Chita Rivera. I wasn’t even positive that The Visit was in fact a musical until I secured my tickets. But I was already planning to be in the City that weekend and I was able to rope my friend Amanda into going with me, so for $20 (plus fees) I was willing to take a flyer on it. I assumed that the Tonys probably aren’t likely to nominate garbage and if nothing else, I’d get to see a performer live that I’d probably not otherwise have a chance to see (plus hang out with a pal that I don’t see as much as I’d like). I didn’t even bother to do any additional research – other than to make sure it was actually a musical – and walked in to see The Visit basically blind. I was a Broadway explorer, wandering into the great unknown to see what I would discover.
What I found was a solid musical with strong performances that while it might not be among my favorite shows that I’ve seen was still an entertaining night at the theater. Even without any real expectations, The Visit managed to surprise me both in subject matter and how much I enjoyed it. Chita Rivera was great and was obviously the reason that most people were in the audience; she deservedly received the biggest ovations of the evening. There were some plot holes in the story and the songs, while enjoyable, were not particularly memorable, but this did not damper the quality of the performances or the overall gratification of the musical.
Based on the 1956 Friedrich Durrenmatt satirical play, The Visit takes place in a small European town that is on the verge of decline. The once prosperous town is economically depressed and in danger of ceasing to exist. Hope is renewed, however, when it is announced that one of the town’s former residents Claire Zachanassian (Rivera) – now the wealthiest woman in the world – is planning on returning to her birthplace for the first time since she left as a young woman. The townspeople hope that they convince her on giving the town some money and it looks particularly promising when upon her return she is interested in spending time with her former beau Anton (Tom Nelis). But the motivation behind why Claire has finally decided to return might be less altruistic than the townspeople had hoped; Claire’s sudden appearance may have more to do with settling scores than with philanthropy. What are the townspeople willing to do to guarantee her contribution?
The cast is small (no more than 15 people) and the set design is minimal (though beautiful) so The Visit really lives and dies on the quality of the performances and the songs/plot. Unlike some Broadway musicals, The Visit isn’t a lavish production so there isn’t much to distract the viewer. If there is an uneven performance or the story doesn’t work, it will be very noticeable. Thankfully, this wasn’t a problem; the actors were all on point and did a fantastic job. Rivera was fantastic as expected, but her co-lead Nelis was just as strong. He has to carry a lot of the emotional weight of the musical and he is more than up to the challenge of going toe to toe with Rivera. The supporting actors all did a nice job as well; they all mostly got an individual moment to shine and carry the moments. It wasn’t until we were reading the program on the ride home on LIRR that we noticed that one of the supporting actors was David Garrison, who played the neighbor Steve Rhoades on Married…With Children. I didn’t realize that he did Broadway, but he actually originated the role of The Wizard in the original touring company of Wicked.
I was invested enough in the events of the play unfolding that the various plot holes didn’t really bother me during the course of the musical. They aren’t even necessarily plot holes, but more lapses of logic – based on the information that is revealed over the course of the play, the residents obviously should have been a little more wary of the return of Zachanassian. But I guess there wouldn’t have been much of a musical if everyone acted rationally and while I found these lapses amusing during our post-show discussion, they are not a detriment to the quality of the musical overall.
Some other thoughts:
- We accidentally cut in line in front of a woman waiting to go into the theater – we didn’t realize that she was in line – who then proceeded to yell at us and be super snotty about it. Thankfully we didn’t say anything catty in response because of course you know who we wound up sitting next to once we got in the show (I actually predicted this because I know my luck). And for someone who was so worried about etiquette, she talked through the entire show and took pictures – two much bigger faux pas as far as I’m concerned.
- I hope that I look half as good as Chita Rivera when I’m 82.
- Michelle Veintimilla, who plays a younger version of Rivera’s character, looks amazingly like Rivera did when she was younger. Great casting.
- The Visit is mostly a pretty dark musical, but it does have its occasional moments of levity.
- My big takeaway from The Visit – I know want to buy a pair of yellow shoes.
- A one-act version of this musical originated at the Williamstown Theater Festival, which I often go to and that has a pretty stellar record lately of launching shows that eventually turn up on Broadway. I’m STILL mad that I missed out one the early performances at the festival of Bradley Cooper in The Elephant Man.
I enjoyed The Visit and I am glad that I took advantage of the opportunity to see it; it’s not a musical that I would have probably sought out on my own if the opportunity for discounted tickets didn’t present itself, but it was a nice night of Broadway. It wasn’t my favorite thing that I’ve seen lately on stage, but it was an unexpected treat; I don’t know how likely it is to do well at the Tonys, but it was certainly worth adding an extra day to my trip to the City. You don’t get many opportunities to see a Broadway legend in action and for that reason alone it was worth the price of admission.