The Visit is the last John Kander and Fred Ebb musical before Mr. Ebb’s death in 2004. It stars Chita Rivera and Roger Rees, with a new book by Terrence McNally based on the Friedrich Durrenmatt play, and it opened at the Lyceum Theater on April 23rd. The original play version opened in 1958 starring Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne (their last Broadway roles.)
The same week, another musical drama called Fun Home, starring Michael Cerveris and Judy Kuhn, also opened. Many parallels can be drawn between these two works. Both are psycho-drama musicals which have fine scores. The Visit is a gothic chamber music opera and Fun Home is in some sense a melodrama-operetta. Both musical scores are colorful in a new way, and both deal with very dark and serious subject matter. Think turning Macbeth into a musical: that might be next in the not-too-distant future on Broadway.
Fun Home focuses in on a dysfunctional, psychologically distressed American family who live in a suburban town in Ohio. The cast includes three girls named Alison, who are the same person at different ages. The oldest, played by a boyish Beth Malone, is a singular Greek chorus looking back at her thwarted early childhood. Sidney Lucas plays Small Alison and Emily Skeggs portrays the Middle Alison—a teenager coming to grips with her sexuality, who eventually comes out in college. She falls in love with Joan (Roberta Colindrez) and sings “I’m Doing My Thesis on Joan.”
The father (Michael Cerveris) runs a funeral parlor, thus the title Fun Home. Dad, who also doubles as a high school teacher and has a penchant for young men and teenage boys, is ultimately driven to suicide. This dynamic divided drama of angst is somehow lifted by a fine musical score sung beautifully and with great gusto and intensity, leaving the audience stunned, breathless and perhaps in a state of shock.
Similarly dark, The Visit explores themes of money, greed corruption and revenge, ending with the people of a poor and ravaged town voting to murder one of their own—the town shopkeeper Anton Schell (Roger Rees.) Claire Zachanassian (Chita Rivera) offers the townspeople millions of dollars to sacrifice the shopkeeper, her former lover who abandoned her long ago when she was with child.
She plans to take his body home in a coffin she has brought along with her, and which sits center stage throughout the play, where eventually she will be buried alongside him—in a perverse sense consummating their love in eternity if not in life.
Rivera almost evokes the operatic style of Maria Callas though her voice, unlike Callas, is much deeper and more mellow.
Rivera, the Kander and Ebb score/lyrics, and the rest of the large ensemble cast could not be better.
Fun Home and The Visit are not your usual Broadway fare but both are certainly worth a—fun visit.