John Kander, Fred Ebb and Terrence McNally's musicalization of Friedrich Duerrenmatt's The Visit will open Chicago's Goodman Theatre 2001-02 season, which has been officially announced by the theatre. Performances begin Sept. 21. Chita Rivera will star as the vengeful Claire Zachannassian, under Frank Galati's direction. Ann Reinking will choreograph.
According to a Goodman spokesperson, High Society's John McMartin will play the ex-husband Claire comes to destroy. The Visit will play through Oct. 28 and officially open Oct. 1. Rehearsals begin in August. Galati told Playbill On-Line April 6 that Broadway is still the goal for the musical.
"The whole idea of [crossing] Duerrenmatt's play with a musical theatre mode is tremendously exciting," Galati told Playbill On-Line. "And actually, it's something that Duerrenmatt himself would be turned on by. He was really into detective fiction, he loves thrillers and he loved music hall, musicals and vaudeville."
In an interview with Playbill On-Line last February, Reinking, talking of the part of Claire, observed, "Well, the character has a wooden leg. [Former star] Angela [Lansbury] came up with this wonderful idea. There's this number with her entourage. She said, 'I wouldn't mind doing some version of a tango.' When she said that, my eyes sort of lit up. With Chita, I might try that. But if it doesn't work — it won't be in it. For me, there's obviously not a lot of choreography with this story. But that story has impressed me ever since I was 14. It was one of the first plays I saw at Seattle Rep."
The musical and the Goodman were first linked last fall, and in December 2000 producer Barry Brown confirmed to Playbill On-Line that he was exploring a tryout at the Windy City nonprofit, but nothing was in stone. Since then, Reinking, Ebb and Galati have openly discussed the venture. Brown had announced the musical for the 2000-2001 season, but star Angela Lansbury backed out for family reasons. Librettist McNally, composer Kander and lyricist Ebb wrote the show with Lansbury in mind.
Brown gave up on bringing the tuner to Broadway in the 2000-2001 season after an exhaustive and well-publicized search for a lead actress to replace Lansbury. The multiple Tony-winner dropped out of the show July 20, 2000, to be with her husband, Peter Shaw, who had recently undergone heart surgery. Fans and media — and, perhaps to some degree, the creative team itself — had a frustrated time dreaming of who might replace the popular Lansbury in the dark role. Among names bandied about by various parties: Zoe Caldwell, Meryl Streep, Diana Rigg, Judi Dench, Bernadette Peters, Rivera, Vanessa Redgrave, Glenn Close and Shirley MacLaine.
In other Goodman season news, following a new version of A Christmas Carol, staged by Henry Godinez from an adaptation by Tom Creamer (Nov. 17-Dec. 22), comes Regina Taylor's Drowning Crow. The play was previously set to play the Goodman's smaller stage April 27-May 27 but was then rescheduled for the bigger Albert Ivar space for early next year, Jan. 6-Feb. 10, 2002, officially opening Jan. 14, 2002. "As Drowning Crow has taken shape," said Goodman artistic director Robert Falls in a statement, "we realized that the larger stage and the greater technical resources of the Albert theatre would enable us to more fully realize the vision of Regina."
Crow is Taylor's new adaptation of The Seagull. The actress playwright has relocated the drama to the historic Gullah Islands off the coast of modern-day South Carolina. The family is now African-American and Konstantin is a performance artist.
Filling the spot vacated by Crow at the Owen will be the Chicago based Next Theatre's production of Among the Thugs by Tom Szentgyorgyi, running June 1-30 (opening June 11). Kate Buckley directs.
Following Drowning at the Goodman will be a much-anticipated revival of Long Day's Journey Into Night staged by Robert Falls and starring Death of a Salesman Tony winner, Brian Dennehy. Performances begin Feb. 22 for an opening March 4 and a run through April 6, 2002. Eugene O'Neill's classic drama tells of a miserly actor, his drug addled wife, drunken older son and tubercular younger one. Stewing in their misery, they occupy a fogbound summer house in New England.
Lighter fare arrives April 19-May 26, 2002 (opening April 26) via Amy Freed's The Beard of Avon, which recently received a staging at CA's South Coast Rep. Ever since Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare, pundits have asked, "Did Shakespeare really write Shakespeare?" Could a boy from the provinces turned-London actor really produce the greatest plays in the English language? Or was he really a noble too embarrassed to be thought of as associating with common theatrical folk?
Amy Freed contemplates these possibilities in her latest, which will be staged by David Petrarca (who directed Marvin's Room. The Beard of Avon proposes that Shakespeare, the actor was a "beard" or cover up for a more genteel writer. Perhaps this mysterious person is the Earl of Oxford or Sir Francis Bacon or even Queen Elizabeth herself.
Closing the mainstage season will be a new look at the life of scientist Galileo, courtesy of composer Philip Glass, director Mary Zimmerman and librettist Arnold Weinstein. Galileo, Galilei, running June 14-July 28, 2002 (opening June 24, 2002) is billed as "an Opera in Twelve Scenes" and promises to be a more physical and more performance-art-like work than Brecht's well-known play on the same subject. Zimmerman just finished staging the NYSF's lighthearted Measure for Measure in Central Park, but she's best known for historical or myth-based works that rely on acrobatic physicality (Arabian Nights, The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci). Glass' latest collaboration, with JoAnne Akalaitis on In the Penal Colony, is currently playing at Off-Broadway's CSC.
In the Owen Bruner Goodman Theatre space, Charles L. Mee's widely produced Big Love gets its first Chicago mounting. Les Waters will direct this darkly comic battle of the sexes, Oct. 19-Nov. 18, opening Oct. 29. Mee's Humana Festival 2000 hit Big Love is a reinterpretation of Aeschylus' The Suppliant Women performed on a wrestling mat. In this ancient tale, fifty women are engaged to fifty brothers without their consent. They run away to Italy, but when finally tracked down by the grooms, each vows to give a wedding night their husbands will never forget.
March 14-24, 2002 will bring Spalding Gray back to the Goodman with what might be called his greatest hit: Swimming to Cambodia. Created and first performed back in 1985, the solo told of Gray's experience playing a minor role in the film, "The Killing Fields." Since then, the monologuist has gone on to do such solos as Morning, Noon and Night, Monster in a Box and Gray's Anatomy. He also co starred in last season's Broadway revival of The Best Man.
For ticket and subscription information ($130-$250 for the mainstage, $46-$72 at the Bruner) at the Goodman Theatre, 170 North Dearborn Avenue in Chicago, call (312) 443-3800.
In related news, the Goodman has surpassed its $33.5 million goal to build a new home, thanks to a $1.95 million grant from the Leading National Theatres Program (i.e., a join venture of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation). The money will go toward building what artistic director Robert Falls calls, "our magnificent new theatre complex in the heart of Chicago's North Loop."
—By David Lefkowitz and Robert Simonson