When Friedrich Durrenmatt's The Visit last visited Broadway, it starred a pre-NEA Jane Alexander. As reported in the New York Post (Mar. 4), next season the chilling satire will get a new star --- and a new sound.
Although the Post erred in saying Edgar would produce the piece (he's not involved; Barry Brown will do the honors), the story is otherwise correct: Lansbury will star, and Kander & Ebb, who are longtime friends of Brown, are working on a score for it.
Brown told Playbill On-Line (Mar. 4), "I've bought the rights. I've wanted to do the musical for years. At the moment I'm the sole producer, though with musicals running $8 million these days, it usually doesn't stay that way." A source close to the production team told Playbill On-Line that Terrence McNally has been tapped as the librettist. A Playbill On-Line reader then wrote in to say he'd heard McNally speak at a playwrights' discussion in Washington DC (March 4), and McNally confirmed that he would be working on The Visit's book. McNally penned the book for Ragtime and scripted the Tony-winning Kiss of the Spider Woman, Love! Valour! Compassion! and Master Class.
[McNally apparently also said he was collaborating on an opera based on the film Dead Man Walking and was about to workshop his long delayed new play, Corpus Cristi, cancelled twice at Manhattan Theatre Club. McNally apparently told the assembled Cristi would have a cast of 13 and a set of just two long benches. The playwright is on a kick to reduce scenery in his shows and told the crowd that his scene in his next play, House (a collaboration with Jon Robin Baitz), has no scenery at all.
Asked where he got the idea to turn The Visit into a musical, Brown said he first saw the Durrenmatt play in a black box theatre in Los Angeles five or six years ago. "I thought, hmmm...I wonder. But nothing will happen if I don't make it happen."
News on The Visit will come as something of a surprise to Kander & Ebb watchers, since as of late, they've been working on The Skin of Our Teeth and the musical murder mystery, Curtains. The songwriting team were represented twice on Broadway last season, with Steel Pier and a still-running revival of Chicago. A much heralded revival of Cabaret opens at the Kit Kat Klub in New York this month. No songs have been written yet for The Visit, "which is why it's 18 months to two years away," notes Brown.
Best known for TV's "Murder She Wrote," Lansbury's last Broadway turn was recreating her Tony-winning performance in a 1983 revival of Mame. Before that, she won the Tony as Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd, though she's also legendary for making Mama Rose her own (despite Merman's legacy) in a major Broadway revival of Gypsy.
A Swiss playwright who died in 1990, Durrenmatt began his career with It Is Written in 1947. Other plays include The Physicists and Play Strindberg. The Visit, about an elderly woman with a serious grudge against the man who done her wrong, was first played in New York by Lunt and Fontanne, for whom the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre is named. In this dark comedy of revenge, a former prostitute, now a millionairess, pays a macabre visit to her hometown. She tempts the poverty-stricken townspeople with cash to kill the man who ruined her when she was a girl.
-- By David Lefkowitz