Chita Rivera has always been considered a triple threat — singer, dancer, actress. Now, she's a triple threat who is threatening in the world premiere of the John Kander-Fred Ebb-Terrence McNally musical, The Visit, opening Oct. 1 at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago.
The darkly comic new musical began a preview period of rewrites and tweaks and changes Sept. 21 at the Windy City nonprofit. A new sequence went into the show as late as last week, John Kander told Playbill On-Line.
The Visit company began rehearsals Aug. 14 at the Tony Award-honored resident theatre. Chita Rivera and John McMartin lead the troupe as ex-lovers who tango through a bitter reunion that turns deadly. Rivera is a veteran of the salty vamps of composer Kander and incisive lyrics of Ebb. She starred on Broadway in their Chicago, The Rink (for which she won the Tony Award) and Kiss of the Spider Woman (for which she won Tony No. 2). McMartin appeared in the original Broadway productions of Sweet Charity, Follies and High Society. He also played Captain Andy in the Hal Prince revival of Show Boat.
Frank Galati (Ragtime) directs and Ann Reinking (Fosse) choreographs the tale of a depressed town and its famous former resident — Claire Zachanassian, the richest woman in the world. Performances at the Albert Ivar Goodman Theatre continue to Nov. 3. Claire was driven from her hometown in disgrace when she was 17, betrayed by her lover, Anton Schell (McMartin). Many years (and seven husbands) later, she returns (beautifully dressed, but with a wooden leg) to her now-impoverished stomping grounds and offers to save the town. The price? Nothing less than the life of Schell. The musical is drawn from the 1956 play of the same name by Swiss playwright Friedrich Dürrenmatt. The play's original title was Der Besuch der alten Dame (Visit of the Old Woman), and was produced in London and New York as The Visit starring Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne.
The musical cast includes Guy Adkins (Karl Schell), McKinley Carter (Annie Dummermut), Mark Jacoby (Mayor Peter Dummermut), Cristen Paige (Otillie Schell), Ami Silvestri (Matilde nee Blumhard), Steven Sutcliffe (Schoolmaster Kuhn), with Scott Calcagno, Tina Cannon, Jim Corti, Mark Crayton, Joseph Dellger, Roberta Duchak, John W. Eskola, James Harms, Rob Hatzenbeller, Brian Herriott, Rosalyn Rahn Keirns, Leisa Mather, Matt Orlando, Adam Pelty, Greg Walter, Jonathan Weir, Bernie Yvon and Raymond Zrinsky.
Kander told Playbill On-Line the Goodman process has been "safe" an nurturing and the company felt far removed from the pressures of commercial theatre producers and New York critics. Although it's known there are commercial producers in the wings, waiting to see how The Visit lands, Kander said the creators' concerns were with the Goodman product rather than instant success on Broadway.
Kander said the role of Claire is not a dance part, but Reinking has created choreography for something called "The One-Legged Tango" to show off Rivera's celebrated dance skills.
Previously, Reinking told Playbill On-Line: "Well, the character has a wooden leg. 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. 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."
Tickets range $40-$55. The Goodman Theatre is at 170 N. Dearborn Street. For further ticket information, call (312) 443 3800.
The musical was developed originally by producer Barry Brown as a vehicle for Angela Lansbury and was announced for a Broadway run that would begin in early 2001. Lansbury pulled out owing to family responsibilities.
Galati told Playbill On-Line April 6 that Broadway is still the goal for the musical. The nonprofit Goodman is a testing ground for the show.
"The whole idea of [crossing] Dürrenmatt's play with a musical theatre mode is tremendously exciting," director Galati told Playbill On Line. "And actually, it's something that Dürrenmatt himself would be turned on by. He was really into detective fiction, he loves thrillers and he loved music hall, musicals and vaudeville."
McNally, Kander and Ebb previously collaborated on Kiss of the Spider Woman and The Rink.
— By Kenneth Jones
and Robert Simonson