Thursday, May 28, 2015

Review of "The Second Mrs. Wilson"

The last two Broadway seasons have produced a number of compelling political dramas.  Brian Cranston rightfully received the 2014 Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play with his powerful performance as President Lyndon Baines Johnson in All the Way.  The show dealt with his efforts to pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act.  Helen Mirren, currently starring in New York in The Audience, is mesmerizing in the play, which revolves around Queen Elizabeth’s weekly meetings with her Prime Ministers over the decades.  Lin-Manuel Miranda was captivating in the Off-Broadway smash hit, Hamilton.  He played one of the nation’s founding father’s, Alexander Hamilton.

Now the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven has added to the political theater canon with The Second Mrs. Wilson.  The play, written by Joe DiPietro, focuses on President Woodrow Wilson’s relationship with Edith Bolling after the death of his first wife and how, after they are married and Wilson suffered a debilitating stroke, she became the de facto commander in chief during his convalescence.  Unfortunately, unlike the three previously mentioned New York productions, with a dominating performance by the lead actor/actress, The Second Mrs. Wilson is more diffuse and not as riveting.  Margeret Colin, who plays Bolling, gives a mostly understated, yet confident performance.  As the show progresses the actress transforms into a steadfast and unyielding woman. She does not waver when it comes to protecting her husband from the Washington powerbrokers that would banish her to the kitchen. 

The real life story of Edith Bolling is a fascinating note in American history.  Playwright DiPietro has not, however, taken the events surrounding this period of time and crafted a show with a gripping and engrossing enough central figure or interesting and compelling secondary characters.  This lessens our connection to the action on stage and turns what could have been an enthralling drama into a production with too many lows and not enough highs.  We are treated to a truncated history lesson that is probably unfamiliar to most people in the audience.  Not only does this include the president’s liaison with the widowed Ms. Bolling, but also his obsession with forming the League of Nations.  Yet, structurally, the show is a loosely connected series of vignettes, sometimes with puzzling results.  For example, there is a scene where Woodrow Wilson struggles over the United States becoming involved in World War I.  As a moral man he is deeply conflicted over such a cataclysmic decision.  Supporting him is his wife and aides.  Vilifying him is Republican Senate leader Henry Cabot Lodge.  How does Wilson make his final decision?  We never know.  One of the actors simply steps forward and lets us know the president finally relented to the constant pressure and began sending troops overseas.  What could have been a strikingly dramatic moment falls flat. 

John Glover, looking eerily like the 28th president, gives a satisfying performance.  He is at times jaunty, taciturn and principled.  He convincingly portrays an individual that has suffered a severe stroke and rebounds, to a degree, from the affliction.  Nick Wyman, as Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, paces and pontificates.  He needed to be given more shading and nuance to become a deeper, fully developed character.  The other featured players, all accomplished actors, are not as fleshed-out, which gives them a one-dimensional quality.  This is unfortunate since, like the musical Hamilton demonstrated, a well-rounded supporting cast can add sizzle to a production.

Director Gordon Edelstein’s direction is perfunctory.  Actors step in and out from the recesses of Alexander Dodge’s superb set design of a richly paneled and furnished anteroom.  Edelstein is at his best when Colin and Glover are onstage, whether in times of gaiety or seriousness. 

The Second Mrs. Wilson, at the Long Wharf Theatre through May 31st.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Review of "Kiss Me, Kate"

The tuneful melodies from composer Cole Porter’s most triumphant musical, Kiss Me, Kate, is receiving a mostly spirited production at Hartford Stage.  All the ingredients for an entertaining show are present—a talented cast with beautiful singing voices, a cavalcade of memorable songs and red-hot dance numbers, but the pacing is slightly askew.  This causes the production to drag occasionally when it should pop; lag instead of totally captivate.

Based on Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, Kiss Me, Kate is a show within a show.  Onstage, a theater troupe, led by the philandering and egotistical Fred Graham (Mike McGowan) and his former leading lady and ex-wife Lilli Vanessi (Anastasia Barzee), are breaking in a new musical during out-of-town tryouts in Baltimore.  Off-stage, the twosome bicker, squabble and battle it out just like their onstage characters.  Complicating matters is the gambling problem of hoofer Bill Calhoun (Tyler Hanes) and the adverse affects they produce, girlfriend Lois Lane’s (Megan Sikora) wandering eye and a couple of lovable thugs.

Book writers Sam and Bella Spewack have created a story that is both amusing and engaging.  The believability factor takes a back seat, but the plot is well-crafted and satisfying.

Cole Porter’s score for the show contains so many enduring classics, beginning with the musical’s opening number, the enthralling “Another Op’nin, Another Show.”  From there, in succession, audiences are treated to “Why Can’t You Behave,” “Wunderbar,” and “So in Love” and Act I is still only half way over.  Act II starts with the scintillating “Too Darn Hot” and includes the great comic number “Brush Up Your Shakespeare.”  Backing up the luscious songs and strong singing voices is a large orchestra, rare for a regional production.  Their musicianship adds a sheen of luster and vitality to Porter’s output.

The cast is led by Mike McGowan in the dual role of Fred Graham/Petruchio and Anastasia Barzee as Lilli Vanessi/Kate.  Both, seasoned performers, are appealing and clearly having fun with their roles.  Their combative relationship is as believable as their still flickering feelings for one another.  The show’s secondary couple, led by Tyler Hanes as Bill Calhoun/Lucentio and Megan Sikora as Lois Lane/Bianca, are energetic and sprightly.  Hanes is a great rogue and Sikora a bewitching tease.  James T. Lane, who plays Graham’s longtime dresser, is dazzling during his moments on the dance floor.  Joel Blum and Brendan Averett are charmingly appealing as the two gangsters looking to collect a debt.  In addition to the featured players the ensemble is comprised of an outstanding group of actors and actresses that really add sizzle to the show.

Director Darko Trenjak, spearheading his first musical since last year’s Tony Award winning Best Musical, A Gentlemen’s Guide to Love and Murder, has full command of the production.  The musical looks good and, for the most part, glides along smoothly.  For some reason the non-musical portions of Kiss Me, Kate don’t always click, which creates slightly sluggish scenes.   Also, not to be too prudish, but the sexual overtones he emphasizes in some portions of the show might be off-putting for parents bringing kids to the production.

The choreography by Peggy Hickey is one of the stars of the musical.  Dance plays a joyful role in this production of Kiss Me, Kate.  From the very start, with “Another Op’nin, Another Show,” Hickey tantalizes the audience with graceful movements and rollicking, toe tapping numbers.  This is thoroughly exemplified in the opening of Act II with “Too Darn Hot.”  Actor James T. Lane, joined by the superb ensemble, dances up a storm as they lament the backstage heat.  Megan Sikora’s frisky exuberance through “Always True to You in My Fashion” is another highlight.

Kiss Me, Kate at Hartford Stage through June 14th.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Review of "Guys and Dolls"

Every so often a show at the usually reliable Goodspeed Opera House comes up short.  Unfortunately, their first musical of the season, Guys and Dolls, falls into this category.  There are a number of problems that upend the production, including the absence of chemistry between two of the lead characters, lackluster choreography and an overall uninspired quality to the show.

The plot revolves around gambler Nathan Detroit’s (Mark Price) desire to find a location for his constantly moving craps game.  He is aided in this endeavor by his long time lieutenant Nicely-Nicely Johnson (Scott Cote).  Detroit's long time girlfriend Miss Adelaide (Nancy Anderson) wants him to get out of his risk taking ways and settle down.  But the big shots are in town including Sky Masterson (Tony Roach) and Nathan Detroit can taste a big score.  Before the game he makes a bet with the handsome, self-confident Masterson that involves Salvation Army worker Sarah Brown (Manna Nichols) who, along with her colleagues, are only interested in saving the souls of Times Square sinners.  Both worlds end up colliding, misunderstandings are straightened out, and love conquers all for an uncomplicated, happy ending.

The score by Frank Loesser is a timeless classic.  There are so many glorious tunes in the musical including the comedic gems “The Oldest Establishment,” “Adelaide’s Lament,” and “Sue Me;” the rollicking title number and the boisterous and joyful “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat.”  If there is one reason to see this production of Guys and Dolls it is to hear such a brilliant score live.

The cast, while talented, does not mesh well and can be a bit too cartoonish.  Mark Price’s Nathan Detroit is too much of a nebbish.  Tony Roach’s Sky Masterson looks good, sings well, but is somewhat wooden.  Nancy Anderson’s Miss Adelaide suitably whimpers and complains, but only briefly shows her character’s inner sensitivity and determination. Manna Nichols, possessing a gorgeous singing voice, does a good job keeping her emotions in check as the impassive, love-lorn Sarah Brown, but is rather unconvincing when her heart begins to flutter.  Scott Cote’s Nicely-Nicely Johnson is the main bright spot among the cast.  He’s funny without being too clownish and really delivers as the lead vocalist on the lively musical numbers “Guys and Dolls” and “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat.”

Director Don Stephenson doesn’t consistently pull all the components of the musical together.  Some scenes work well, others fizzle.  This leads to an overall sluggish production.  Alex Sanchez’s choreography lacks the pizzazz and inventiveness that is a hallmark of Goodspeed productions. 

Guys and Dolls, at the Goodspeed Opera House through June 20th.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Review of "The King and I"

Lincoln Center has done it again.  First, there was the Theater’s ambitious revival of the Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein musical South Pacific in 2008.  Now, the organization has revived another of the duo’s iconic works, The King and I, and it is a sumptuous and majestic production.  Everything about the show is grand, from the musical’s opening, when a ship literally sails into the orchestra; to the large number of musicians in the pit; to the enormous cast; to the towering sets.  This is how to experience a Rodgers and Hammerstein production.

The story finds widowed school teacher Anna Leonowens (Kelli O’Hara) and her son Louis (Jake Luscas) arriving into the port of Bangkok, Siam.  She has been contracted to teach the children of the King (Ken Watanabe).  Miss Anna is also part of the ruler’s plans to help modernize the country.  Met by his highness’ Prime Minister (Paul Nakauchi) at the pier, the mother and son are whisked to the palace.  There, after a number of weeks waiting for an audience, she finally meets the king; his many wives; the head wife Lady Thiang (Ruthie Ann Miles); and his numerous children, including Crown Prince Chulalongkorn (Jon Viktor Corpuz).  We are also introduced to Tuptim (Ashley Park), a gift from the King of Burma to be added to the King of Siam’s coterie of wives, and her secret lover Lun Tha (Conrad Ricamora).

Throughout the show there is a clash of wills between the two main protagonists, the King and Anna.  He is arrogant.  She is stubborn.  They eventually come together in mutual respect.  He needs her to help convince the soon arriving British government envoys he is no savage.  She requires his support to further her educational goals.  All of this occurs as he struggles with the complex and changing world around him.

The cast of The King and I is led by the superb Kelli O’Hara.  Whether playing the dramatic (The Bridges of Madison County, Light in the Piazza) or the comedic (The Pajama Game, Nice Work If You Can Get It) this multi-Tony nominated actress is elegant, believable and intelligent.  Here, resplendent in Catherine Zuber’s magnificent gowns, O’Hara is at the pinnacle of her acting talent with a powerful singing voice that enraptures.  Ken Watanabe as the King of Siam commands the stage and gives a multi-layered performance as the ruler seeking to bring his country into modern times.  The Japanese actor, making his American stage debut, has a passable singing voice that is only occasionally hard to understand.

Ruthie Ann Miles as Lady Thiang has a sonorous singing voice and a regal presence about her.  Ashley Park’s Tuptim is defiant yet vulnerable.  In his brief moments on stage Conrad Ricamora gives Lun Tha a determination and fortitude that proves his undoing.  Viktor Corpuzand as Crown Prince Chulalongkorn artfully endows his character with equal parts bravado, apprehension and wonderment.

The score by Rodgers and Hammerstein contains one memorable song after another.  Here is just a sampling -- “I Whistle a Happy Tune,” “Hello, Young Lovers,” “Getting to Know You,” “Something Wonderful,” and “Shall We Dance.”  It’s almost a sin to have so many well-known, tuneful songs in one show.  

Director Bartlett Sher demonstrates, as he did with Lincoln Center’s South Pacific, that he can command a large production and integrate all its disparate parts into a consummate whole.  Whether there are only one or two performers on stage or the entire cast Sher handles each scene with balance and aplomb. 

Christopher Gattelli’s choreographer, based on the original work by Jerome Robbins, is understated throughout most of the production.  He shines with a sparkling version of “The Small House of Uncle Thomas” ballet and an exhilarating “Shall We Dance” between Anna and the King.

The costumes by Catherine Zuber are glorious, whether emulating Far East styles or turn-of-the-century lady’s ware.  The set design by Michael Yeargan is grand and elegant, but restrained.  He gives the audience the impression of a spacious palace environment.  The ship that sails onto the stage at the show’s start is striking.

The King and I, a beloved classic given an extravagant production.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Review of "The Audience"

Throughout the past 60 years Queen Elizabeth had held a weekly 20 minute meeting with her Prime Minister.  In Peter Morgan’s fascinating and captivating play, The Audience, the playwright imagines what these brief sessions would be like. 

Playing the Queen is the dazzling Helen Mirren.  The actress has made it somewhat of a career of playing the monarch.  Here, she is in regal form.  Her meetings with the heads of the British government can be easygoing, playful, thought-provoking, and decisive.  The actress plays the Queen from a young lady just learning the intricacies of palace life with Winston Churchill up to the 89 year old’s present day conversations with David Cameron.  All the Prime Ministers give strong performances.  Out of the 12, Dakin Matthews as the wily, all-knowing Winston Churchill; Richard McCabe as the homey, unpolished Harold Wilson; and Judith Ivey as the fiery, steadfast Margaret Thatcher were three that stood out.

Writer Morgan has slickly pulled back the curtain of this little known weekly ritual to create an engrossing and sometimes spellbinding theatrical experience.  He has smartly stayed away, for most of the show, of overtly political themes and kept the exchanges more personable and down-to-earth.  There is no specific order to the Prime Minister’s entrances.  Some we see just once, others more often.

Director Stephen Daldry has taken what could have been a tedious and unexciting premise and, instead, provided a compelling and absorbing production.  Even though the majority of the play focuses on two characters seated on plush chairs the interactions and dynamics presented on stage are riveting.  Daldry has also performed a bit of theatrical magic with Mirren’s onstage transformations from one stage of her life to another.  In just seconds the actress, surrounded by busying assistants, almost miraculously alters her appearance.  One minute an older, decorous Queen, the next a youthful monarch.  These metamorphoses take place all through the show.

Bob Crowley’s scenic design realistically gives the illusion of the grandeur and majesty, but also the loneliness, of the interior of Buckingham Palace.

The Audience, a mesmerizing drama with a bravo performance by Helen Mirren.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Review of "Hand to God"

A boy’s despondency over his father’s untimely death forms the catalyst for the new offbeat and raucous Broadway play, Hands to God.  Jason (Steven Boyer) has almost shut down over the anguish he feels.  The world is suffocating him.  He doesn’t communicate well with his mother Margery (Geneva Carr) who, as a way to cope with her grief, has started a puppet workshop at the local church run by Pastor Greg (Marc Kudisch).  Two other adolescents populate the class.  Timothy (Michael Oberholtzer), a slacker who has more then a puppy love passion for Margery; and Jessica (Sarah Stiles), a reticent, but assured young woman.  Within this stifling tension Jason’s hand puppet, Tyrone, suddenly acquires a mind of its own, a mind both nefarious and outrageous, which proves toxic for all involved. 

Playwright Robert Askins has written a truly original play that at its core is an examination of a young man’s descent and, finally ascent, from a personal hell.  He has crafted Tyrone to become an extension and conduit of all the hurt and pain Jason feels.  While the puppet is devilish, it is not possessed of anything greater then a youth’s demonstrative cries for help.  Askins has produced a lot of funny moments in the show, but Hand in God is more a sober affair.

Steven Boyer is superb.  He expressively conveys the angst and inner turmoil of Jason.  I’m sure many teenagers viewing this character would nod their head silently and knowingly.  But his portrayal of the hurting young man is only half of his outstanding performance.  During most of the show he is also the life essence of the demonic, foul-mouthed hand puppet Tyrone.  This is no simple sock puppet, but one manipulated with two rods.  Boyer transforms this inanimate being into a fully fleshed out part of the ensemble.  Many times during the play the two—Jason and Tyrone—are arguing or battling it out.  It is a truly bravo performance by the actor.

Geneva Carr as Margery is impressive as the impulsive, manic and fragile mother, still suffering the devastating loss of her husband and trying to communicate with her angry son.  Carr gives us a heart-wrenching portrayal of a woman in a downward tailspin.  Marc Kudisch is plain-speaking, vulnerable and lustful as Pastor Greg.  He infuses the minister with a humane and caring quality as the commotion on stage becomes more volatile.  Michael Oberholtzer is both menacing and childlike as the libidinous teenager Timothy and Sarah Stiles is soft-spoken, but quietly unflappable and courageous.

Director Moritz von Stuelpnagel adroitly brings out the disquietude within the production.  He creates a controlled mayhem and methodical rhythm to the play.  His foremost accomplishment is the work he has done with Boyer and Tyrone, both separately and as they meld into one.  Even though the focus of the show is on twosome he secures passionate and animated performances from the other actors.

Hand to God, funny, heartbreaking and coarse. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Review of "Fun Home"

Fun Home is a musical about a dysfunctional family with a unique twist.  The father, we learn, is gay, and the daughter, in her words, grows up to become a lesbian cartoonist.  Maybe not the usual subject matter for a Broadway musical, but the show is smart, dynamic and one of the best new musicals of the current season.

The show, based on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel, is primarily a coming of age story for the daughter.  She is played by three very talented actresses, at pivotal times in her life—as a young tween, a college student, and as a 43 year old woman.  We are introduced to the Bechdel family, a quirky group of characters.  Dad (Michael Cerveris), opinionated and forceful, is a funeral home director, home restorer, college teacher and a closeted gay man.  Mom (Judy Kuhn), quiet, thoughtful and repressed, is involved in community theater, taking care of the family and living a lie.  Their three children, two boys, Christian (Oscar Williams) and John (Zell Steele Morrow), and a girl. Alison (Sydney Lucas, Emily Skeggs and Beth Malone), grow up within this idiosyncratic world.  The focus, though, is on Alision as she maneuvers through the landmines of her household and handles her sexual awakening.

The cast of Fun Home is superb.  Michael Cerveris convincingly gives us a portrayal of a man troubled and conflicted.  He is a living and breathing conundrum where no answers are easy.  Judy Kuhn, more in the background, is unwavering in her support and protective of her brood.  The three actresses that combine to tell the tale of Alison are outstanding.  Sydney Lucas as the Young Alison delivers a stunning performance well beyond her years.  Emily Skeggs as the Middle Alison is the most complex of the trio.  From an initial ambivalence and awkwardness of the character she matures to become a self-assured individual.  Beth Malone as the older Alison is more a watcher and her poised observations brings the character full circle.

The book by Lisa Kron, an award-winning playwright, is tightly structured with well-defined characters mined from the graphic novel.  The dialogue is expressive and never compromising. 

The music by Jeanine Tesori and lyrics by Lisa Kron is the best new score on Broadway.  While Kron is new in the lyrics department, Tesori has done masterful work over the years with contributions to such divergent projects as Violet; Caroline, or Change; Thoroughly Modern Millie; and Shrek – the Musical.  Fun Home might be her best work.  The songs form a cohesive whole and are melodic as they speak to the family’s life, the angst of the daughter and even the fun that can permeate the household.

Director Sam Gold has put together a polished production that is passionate, energized and sensitively mines the emotional depths of the musical.  He skillfully guides the actors around the confines of Circle in the Square, deftly bringing out the subtleties and complexities of the production. 

The scenic design by David Zinn, with sets moved around the staging area and appearing and disappearing from the floor, adds to the visual activity and briskness of the production.

Fun Home, a powerful, poignant musical not to be missed.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Review of "Something Rotten!"

Finally, a rollicking, no-holds barred musical opens on Broadway.  Something Rotten!, its excesses sometimes going too over-the-top, nonetheless, is fun, clever, full of merriment and containing a bevy of high-spirited, ebullient actors.

It is the end of the 16th century and William Shakespeare (Christian Borle) has achieved rock star status as the playwright everyone loves and wants to emulate.  Enter the Bottom brothers, Nick (Brian d’Arcy James) and Nigel (John Cariani), that write and produce their own plays in the shadow of The Bard.  Unfortunately, they are in desperate need of a hit to keep their merry band of actors together and placate their moneyed patron.   Complicating matters is Nick’s desire to make a better life for him and his wife Bea (Heidi Blickenstaff) and Nigel’s love for Portia (Kate Reinders) the daughter of the holier-than-thou Puritan, Brother Jeremiah (Brooks Ashmanskas).  In desperation, Nick turns to a demented soothsayer (Brad Oscar) to help him divine the next big thing in the theater.  His simple response of musicals sets in motion the wild, wacky and hugely entertaining Something Rotten!

The book by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell is very funny, poking fun at theater conventions and musicals of the past.  They have given their large and polished ensemble of performers robust characters, not an easy feat with so many actors and actresses requiring stage time.  While the defining premise of the show is rather offbeat, the two somehow make it work.  Two minor criticisms—First, towards the end of the production Kirkpatrick and O’Farrell do tend to go slightly overboard with their references to musicals past and, second, by the middle of Act II the barrage of jokes and one-liners noticeably stalls from the show’s beginning.  In a sense, they have a hard time competing with themselves.

The score by Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick is a delight.  Tuneful, zany and frenzied the songs are delivered with a full-throttled gusto by the talented cast.  From the raucous opening number, “Welcome to the Renaissance,” to the bellyaching complaints of “God, I Hate Shakespeare,” to the madcap production numbers “A Musical” and “We See the Light,” the songs have a joyful assault on our auditory senses.

The cast is led by Brian d’Arcy James who throughout his career has tackled the dramatic (Titanic and Sweet Smell of Success) and the comedic (Shrek – the Musical).  As Nick Bottom he is in fine form as the misguided, resolute Bottom brother.  He also shows off a previously unheralded hoofing ability.  John Cariani, as his brother Nigel, is hysterically excitable.  Christian Borle seems like he is having a lot of fun playing the boorish, calculating Shakespeare.  Brooks Ashmanskas, with his exaggerated histrionics, provides a perfect comic foil for the rest of the cast. Heidi Blickenstaff, popping up intermittently, provides humorous stability. Kate Reinders is a comic find and more then holds her own against such a formidable troupe.  Brad Oscar should be the front-runner for Best Featured Actor in a Musical Tony based on his delirious rendition, with other members of the cast, of the Act I production number, “A Musical.”

Director and choreographer Casey Nicholaw takes full rein of the show, making it a tightly run piece of musical theater.  Unlike his slip shoddy work with last season’s Aladdin (I thought that show was a bit of a mess).  Nicholaw’s work is well-thought out bringing forth superb performances by the skillful group of thespians.  As choreographer his high-octane dance numbers bring down the house.

The scenic design by Scott Pask can be whimsical; the costumes by Gregg Barnes are colorful with a slightly off-kilter take on renaissance garb.

Something Rotten!, a boisterous and jaunty ride not to be missed.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Review of "The Visit"

The long gestating musical, The Visit, has finally made its way to Broadway after a 15 year journey.  The last musical by the composing team of John Kander and Fred Ebb, and starring the legendary Chita Rivera, the 95 minute show is a subdued, modest and solemn piece of theater. 

The Visit is a tale of truth, vengenance, and greed.  The straightforward book by Terrence McNally, based on the 1956 play by Friedrich D├╝rrenmatt, takes place in the village of Brachen, Switzerland.  The town is a shell of its former existence.  It is rundown, falling apart and inhabited by a defeated and decrepit populous.  Word soon spreads about the impending return of Claire Zachanassian (Chita Rivera) to her hometown village.  She is now the richest woman in the world and the people look to her for salvation.  After her arrival we learn about her wretched time growing up in Brachen; her torrid love affair with former lover, Anton Schell (Roger Rees), and the dark secrets buried by the past.  The town, she matter-of-factly declares, can be showered with her billions, but must pay an exacting price.

Throughout the production Madam Zachanassian is surrounded is by two obedient eunuchs and an imposing, venerable, gray-haired butler, all who share in the mysterious events of the past, now bubbling to the surface.  There is also a younger version of Claire and Anton, constantly encircling the action on stage.  They give us a glimpse of their youthful, lustful selves, causing us to think what if the acts of the past followed a divergent path?  Would the seismic changes that occurred over the decades to the people and town be different?

The cast is led by the ageless Chita Rivera.  She makes a grand entrance, dressed in a white, flowing gown, fur and priceless jewelry.  At the age of 82 she still commands the stage and demonstrates she can still move elegantly around the boards and forcefully deliver a song.  Roger Rees’ Anton Schell is a conflicted individual and it shows through the pained inevitability of his performance.  The rest of the actors are solid in support of Rivera and Rees.

The score by John Kander and Fred Ebb is workman-like with occasional flourishes of cynicism and bite we have come to associate with the two veterans.  However, persistently, this is an underwhelming group of songs that never rises to the heights the duo has so consistently delivered in the past.  One can only imagine the difference the work would have been if Ebb, who died over ten years earlier, was alive to still tinker on the score.

The scenic design by Scott Pask is grand and ominous as it rises into the rafters of the Lyceun Theatre.  It sets the tone of the environs even before the production commences.  Japhy Weideman’s lighting amplifies the downtrodden nature of the town and its denizens.

John Doyle’s direction is serviceable as he guides the actors and actresses around the stark setting.  Even though the players comment on the action and plead their case, the overall emphasis is presenting the troupe as an ominous whole.  Doyle adds a ghost-like, and somewhat effective, ambiance to the production as characters silently, periodically, pace in the background. 

The Visit, a reserved and slender piece of musical theater.