It’s taken almost 15 years but The Visit is finally knocking on Broadway’s door.
One of the last musical collaborations of composer John Kander and his late lyricist partner Fred Ebb, the celebrated team behind Cabaret and Chicago, The Visit will begin previews on March 26 at the Lyceum Theatre. Opening night is April 23, the deadline day for 2015 Tony Awards eligibility.
Heading the cast is another Broadway legend, Chita Rivera, whose long association with Kander and Ebb encompasses starring roles in the original productions of Chicago, The Rink and Kiss of the Spider Woman. The two latter shows won her Tonys for lead actress in a musical.
Rivera co-stars in The Visit with Roger Rees, a 1982 best actor Tony winner for his role in The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby.
Terrence McNally, who currently has a smash hit on Broadway with the all-star theater-biz comedy It’s Only a Play, wrote the book for The Visit, which will be directed by John Doyle and choreographed by Graciela Daniele.
The show is based on a 1956 satirical play by Friedrich Durrenmatt, as adapted by Maurice Valency. A story of love, greed and revenge, it chronicles fabulously wealthy, repeatedly widowed Claire Zachanassian’s return to her birthplace, where she encounters Anton Schell, the man who scorned her years earlier. Rivera will play Claire, with Rees as Anton.
Theater insiders are already speculating whether Rivera intends to make this her farewell Broadway appearance. The actress became a star when she originated the role of Anita in West Side Story in 1957; she turns 82 on Jan. 23.
The Visit has had a rocky history. Originally conceived as a vehicle for Angela Lansbury and scheduled for Broadway in 2001, it was first produced in Chicago with Rivera stepping in when Lansbury was forced to withdraw due to the declining health of her husband. The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the subsequent downturn in tourism caused immediate plans for a Broadway move to be dropped.
A 2004 run at the Public Theater, with Rivera starring opposite Frank Langella, failed to materialize, but the show surfaced in a reworked form in 2008 at the Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia, again with Rivera in the lead. A one-act version with further revisions was staged in summer 2014 at the Williamstown Theatre Festival by Doyle, a Tony winner for the 2006 Sweeney Todd revival.
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That production will now play Broadway, making this a prolific year for Williamstown transfers. Others include the The Elephant Man, starring Bradley Cooper; the upcoming comedy Living On Love, with Renee Fleming; and the fall Sam Shepard revival Fool for Love, with Nina Arianda and Sam Rockwell.
Lead producer on The Visit is McNally’s husband, Tom Kirdahy, along with Tom Smedes, Hugh Hayes and Judith Ann Abrams. The production follows Disgraced at the Lyceum, which closes on March 1.