Richard and I saw this musical on Broadway on 5/15. It’s the final show by Kander and Ebb, the team that brought us *Cabaret*, *Chicago*, so many great musicals. I use the term “final show” loosely - - they wrote this show in 2001 and wrote two other (better) shows after it, *Curtains* and *The Scottsboro Boys*. But this is being billed as their “final show” because it’s their last “new” musical to play on Broadway. BTW Ebb (the lyricist) died in 2004, so the drawbridge really has gone up on them writing anything more.
It’s an adaptation of the Dürrenmatt’s play, which had its Broadway debut in 1958, starring the reigning king and queen of the American stage, Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne. Directed by Peter Brook, no less! It’s the story of a girl who has a summer romance with a local boy in small town Switzerland, and of course she gets pregnant. *Peyton Platz*. He pushes her into getting an abortion, takes up with someone else, she leaves town. She marries a number of rich men and becomes the richest woman in the world. She comes back to the town fifty (sixty, seventy?) years after she left. Her old boyfriend is still there, has married and has a couple kids. She makes the town an offer: she will give the town ten billion marks, plus two million marks for every man, woman, and child who lives there - - if they kill her old boyfriend. They agree to the execution (even his wife and kids!), they take the money, she leaves town with his body in a very elegant coffin.
The musical was originally written for Angela Lansbury, who had to withdraw because of her own illness and the death of her husband. Chita Rivera stepped into the role and did the out-of-town tryout in Chicago in the fall of 2001. The producers decided the time wasn’t right for such a dark show on Broadway, this being right after 9/11. There was a production in Virginia in 2008 and in Williamstown in 2014 and it finally opened on Broadway in April.
It’s always a joy to hear a real honest to God old fashioned Broadway musical. A NEW one, no less. Kander and Ebb really knew their craft, the show is driven by the music and the songs weave effortlessly into the story (the book is by master craftsman Terrence McNally). Chita was fantastic - - she doesn’t just ooze star quality, she throws it at you. She’s wonderful when she skates through the vocal line (she sings like a dancer), but she should not sustain notes. Her vibrato has become a tremolo. Roger Rees plays the role of the lover, and I had not heard good things about his singing, so was a little relieved to see that his role was being played by his understudy, Tom Nelis. He did a very good job, has a lovely voice, and had nice chemistry with Rivera.
I didn’t like the show as much as I wanted to. It falls a little flat. The ending should be chilling, but instead it was just the ending. One of the problems (maybe the central problem) is that they do the show without a break. True, it’s only an hour and forty-five minutes long, but that’s a long time to sustain interest. But then maybe there’s no good place to put a big first-act curtain in the middle, and then ramp things back up for the second act.