Though it isn’t the last musical for which Fred Ebb ever wrote lyrics, The Visit, which has been in development for 15 years, marks the last new lyrics of his to be heard on Broadway, and for that the show has a ghostly finality about it. Ebb’s sensibility courses through the 100-minute, intermission-less evening, from the bitter wit with which the wealthy heroine explains her fortunes (“I married very often/And I widowed very well”) to sub-verbal expressions of pure love (“You, you, you/Suddenly you, you, you”). But the late lyricist’s signature is most audible in the titular metaphor of one number in particular: “Yellow Shoes.”
The footwear in question contrasts with the dark, shabby outfits designed by Ann Hould-Ward and worn by the denizens of the fictional European town of Brachen. The most colorful items on stage, the shoes and other yellow clothes snatched up, on credit, by the destitute townspeople showcase Ebb’s talent for conveying unimaginable evil through tokens of innocence. The yellow shoes belong in the same family as Cabaret’s gorilla and Roxie’s chorus boys in Chicago, thrillingly theatrical representations of the spectacle of corruption. If only The Visit had been brave enough to follow such cunning cynicism through to its conclusion, this Broadway premiere might have been a triumph. As it is, The Visit, with an unobtrusive and ghostly score by John Kander, is a charmingly creepy curiosity, bolstered by a fine performance by its leading lady.