Based on Friedrich Dürrenmatt's play of the same title, The Visit was first announced to arrive on Broadway in early 2001 following a Boston try-out. It was billed as a vehicle for Tony Award winner Angela Lansbury.
Lansbury later bowed out of the production to be with her family, and Tony-winning Kander and Ebb veteran Chita Rivera stepped into the central role of Claire Zachanassian when The Visit made its debut in September 2001 at Chicago's Goodman Theatre. While Broadway plans were always the aim, an Off-Broadway bow at the Public Theater was considered and scuttled, but not before The Visit would once again resurface at Arlington, VA's Signature Theatre in 2008.
A decade later, Rivera, along with many members of the Signature cast and creative team, have reassembled in New York to prepare The Visit for a special concert staging presented by The Actors Fund and The Vineyard Theatre.
Carl Andress (The Divine Sister, Die Mommie Die) has taken over directorial duties for the Nov. 30 concert staging, which features original choreography by Tony winner Ann Reinking and welcomes John Cullum as Rivera's co-star. The Visit will play the Ambassador Theatre, home of Kander and Ebb's long-running hit revival Chicago.
"We've been dying for New York audiences to have it," Tony-winning book writer McNally said of The Visit. "I think it's riper than ever to be heard." The production marks McNally's third collaboration with composer Kander, late lyricist Ebb and star Rivera, who previously worked together on The Rink and Kiss of the Spider Woman. "This piece has been a very gratifying experience," Kander added. "When we got it to the point that it was at, at the Signature, I think we all felt proud and satisfied. The fact that it was not coming to New York seemed strange and sad for a lot of reasons."
Andress and McNally said there was great hope among the creative team that New York would get to see The Visit beyond its single performance. The attachment of the Vineyard Theatre, which presented Kander and Ebb's The Scottsboro Boys Off-Broadway prior to its Tony-nominated Broadway run, could indicate a possible future life for the musical.
"This is an all-around great company of artists and with a cast of 20-plus of course it would require a bigger theatre than The Vineyard. We are grateful for the chance to participate in this very special evening and hopeful for the show's future," Vineyard executive producer Jennifer Garvey-Blackwell said via e-mail Nov. 28.
"We certainly want more than one performance. That's what we're aiming for," Rivera told Playbill.com. The writers also sang the praises of Rivera, the Broadway legend known for originating roles in West Side Story, Bye Bye Birdie and Chicago, who is still proving her mettle as a triple-threat into her 70's.
"We wrote this for Chita. Her performance in this seems to me to be the culmination of everything she is. All these years of Chita's art that's been growing and growing and growing, and has been pointed toward this performance. It would have been awful if New Yorkers never got to see it," Kander said.
McNally added, "All three of my Kander and Ebb shows have been with Chita, and she won a Tony for the first two. I think a third Tony awaits her if we can get this to Broadway."
"I don't know if I'd have a career if [Kander and Ebb] hadn't shaped it for me and given me such magnificent shows to do," Rivera replied. "So when [The Visit] came about, it seemed right for me at this time in my life. It's so beautifully artistic. It's really what the theatre is about. It's smart. It all blends."
She also spoke of her love for the role of the vengeful Claire, who returns to save her hometown, but with a costly price. "I love her. She was madly in love with this man and he did her wrong. She's strong, she's honest and she gets what she wants," she said.
McNally described The Visit as "serious, but filled with heart and passion. We ask audiences to think and feel. It's not frivolous. I think the score is a masterpiece waiting to be discovered."