"The Visit" marks the third new musical by composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb (best known for "Chicago" and "Cabaret") to come to Broadway after Ebb's death in 2004. "The Scottsboro Boys," which opened at the very same theater in 2010, proved to be one of the team's most daring and brilliant works.
Alas, the same cannot be said for "The Visit," which stars the legendary Chita Rivera and is directed by John Doyle, who rose to prominence with his scaled-down revivals of Sondheim shows where the actors doubled as the orchestra.
Based on a 1956 European tragicomedy, Rivera plays Claire, an extremely rich widow who, after an extended absence, pays a visit to her economically ravaged hometown. Its inhabitants all are hoping Claire will save the town via a sizable donation.
She is willing to bail out the town folk -- on the condition that they murder Anton (Roger Rees), the shopkeeper who loved her years ago but abandoned her after she got pregnant. After initially balking at her proposition, Anton's friends and family suddenly start buying fancy goods on credit, and he knows his tragic fate is sealed.
Although it makes for a provocative thriller, the score is weak, dreary and derivative of Kander and Ebb's earlier work. Considering how Rivera and Rees are limited vocally, it may sound better with stronger singers.
Doyle's streamlined and ultra-stylized production, which runs just 95 minutes, is visually striking, but perhaps too ghoulish for its own good -- to the point of being excessively creepy and gloomy. Take, for instance, the two blind eunuchs who follow Clara around, wear clown makeup and speak in falsetto.
Rivera, unquestionably a Broadway treasure, has the star quality and grand composure to play the diva-like Claire. By comparison, Rees portrays Anton as a sad, broken man, all too willing to meet his dismal fate.
If you go: "The Visit" plays an open run at the Lyceum Theatre. 149 W. 45th St., TheVisitMusical.com.