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Chita Rivera (#110 of 2)

Review: The Visit

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Review: <em>The Visit</em>
Review: <em>The Visit</em>

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.

Climb on Board: Pippin at the Music Box Theatre

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Climb on Board: <em>Pippin</em> at the Music Box Theatre
Climb on Board: <em>Pippin</em> at the Music Box Theatre

Ladies and gentlemen, don’t be a sucker. Step right up to Pippin, the greatest homegrown show of the season. It even has a puppy. This eye- and pelvis-poppin’ extravaganza seems willing to stop at nothing to make us ooh and aww. But miraculously, it never stoops. Instead, most of its nonstop thrills, chills, and threat of spills fly as high as the tip of its big-top tent. Yes, director Diane Paulus has traded out the original’s trope of an itinerant commedia dell’arte band of players for a troop of traveling cirque performers. And the dazzlingly executed change gives the Broadway revival, its first, a leg up facing down its biggest threat: the looming shadow of Bob Fosse.

The legendary director-choreographer won two Tonys for the first production and was roundly credited for its blockbuster success. Without his hands-on involvement, such as a later tour with Chita Rivera and returning star Ben Vereen, much of the magic was gone. Subsequent reimaginings in London (with a video-game concept) and in regional and community theaters have usually failed, giving the material a reputation as a relic tied to an era and a genius long since passed. But Paulus, of the recent Tony Award-winning revivals of Hair and The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, has come to the rescue. Her Pippin moves as fast and forcefully as if it were shot out of a cannon.