When Friedrich Durrenmatt's The Visit last visited Broadway, it starred a pre-NEA Jane Alexander. In fall 1999, the chilling satire will get a new star -- and a new sound.
Reached at a May 18 92nd Street Y Benefit for late founder Maurice Levine, Lansbury told Playbill On-Line the hope was to do a workshop of The Visit in January 1999, followed by a brief tour and a Broadway arrival in fall 1999.
"I believe the voice will be intact," Lansbury said. "I did that musical on television, [Jerry Herman's] `Mrs. Santa Claus', which had nine songs." Due to hip replacement surgery, Lansbury walks with a cane, but she has no trouble getting around and, though `terrified' of touring, appears ready for the rigors of appearing in a new musical.
"Of course, I still have to talk with John and Fred on what they have in mind for the score, but I think Terrence McNally will get the book down very nicely. We're using a translation that's more human and has more humor. That's important, because the audience basically knows what will happen from the second scene on." The Visit, about an elderly woman with a serious grudge against the man who done her wrong, was first played in New York by Alfred Lunt and Lynn 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.
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."
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 their Cabaret has been doing sell-out business at Broadway's Kit Kat Klub. No songs have been written yet for The Visit.
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 was set to music at least once previously, in an opera by Gottfried von Einem. First performed in Vienna in 1971, The Visit of the Old Lady was staged at New York City Opera in 1997.
-- By David Lefkowitz