April 24, 2015 / 2:48 PM / 2 years ago

Broadway legend Chita Rivera makes triumphant return in 'The Visit'

3 Min Read

U.S. President Barack Obama laughs with entertainer Chita Rivera as he presents her with the Medal of Freedom during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington, August 12, 2009.Jason Reed

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Nearly 60 years after she won fame in "West Side Story," actress, dancer and singer Chita Rivera is back on Broadway as a very wealthy widow seeking revenge in "The Visit."

The one-act musical about greed, love and retribution opened on Thursday night at the Lyceum Theater, following its debut in Chicago in 2001 and a run last summer at the Williamstown Theater Festival in Massachusetts.

It is based on the 1956 play by Swiss author and dramatist Friedrich Durrenmatt.

Two-time Tony winner Rivera, 82, starred in both productions and reprises the role of Claire Zachanassian, the world's richest woman, who married often and widowed well.

"The show is more literary piece than conventional musical. But it has a dark, sinister beauty - and who could resist a visit from Chita?" said the trade magazine Variety. "If ever a star deserved her moment of triumph, it's this 82-year-old belle dame."

The Wall Street Journal said the long journey of the show, which was set to open on Broadway more than a decade ago, was worth the wait.

"'The Visit is a cynical tragicomedy whose score is as gorgeous as its heart is hard," the newspaper added.

Claire returns to her hometown in an unnamed European country. It has fallen on hard times and its citizens are hoping she will use her wealth to help. She agrees but only if they kill her former lover Anton Schell, played by actor Roger Rees ("The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby"), who abandoned her to marry a shopkeeper's daughter.

Directed by John Doyle, the musical has a book by Tony-winning playwright Terrence McNally and was the final collaboration of composer John Kander and the late lyricist Fred Ebb. Rivera's Tony awards for "The Kiss of the Spider Woman" and "The Rink" were in shows by the trio.

"The opportunity to see an adored Broadway legend in what may be her swan-song leading role will be the draw for the hardcore musical faithful," said The Hollywood Reporter.

The macabre musical features ghosts of the young lovers and Clair's entourage includes two blind eunuchs and a former judge.

The New York Times said Rees is "painstakingly credible" as Schell but reserved its highest praise for Rivera.

"Her singing voice, sharp-edged and resonant, is identifiably that of the original Anita in 'West Side Story' but invested with an authoritative, all-knowing world weariness," it added.

Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe

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