Rivera Has Hopes for Broadway After WTF 'Visit'By Phyllis McGuire
Special to iBerkshires
03:59PM / Tuesday, July 22, 2014
Roger Rees and Chita Rivera are starring in 'The Visit' at Williamstown Theatre Festival, under the direction of John Doyle, right.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — There was no way Broadway legend Chita Rivera could have gone unnoticed when she walked into the Williams Inn wearing a chic black outfit, black-rimmed glasses accentuating her big dark eyes, raven hair framing her face.
Rivera is in the Village Beautiful to reprise her role of Claire Zachanassian in the Williamstown Theatre Festival production of "The Visit" on the Main Stage from July 31 to Aug.17.
With the book by Terrence McNally and music by iconic songwriting duo John Kander and the late Fred Ebb, "The Visit" brings together three Tony Award winners: Rivera, Roger Rees and director John Doyle.
Rees, perhaps best known as "Cheer's" Robin Colcord, is a veteran WTF performer and director, and was its artistic director from 2004 to 2007.
"I love Williamstown," he said in an interview on July 10. "The audience is appreciative, and it's a fantastic experience to be working with all the wonderful artists."
"The Visit" is a tale about greed, vengeance, love and passion. It was made into a movie in 1964 starring Ingrid Bergman and Anthony Quinn.
Rivera, as Claire, is the oft-widowed wealthiest woman in the world. When Claire returns to the hard-stricken town of her birth, she offers the townspeople a new lease on life — if they carry out her dastardly plan against her former lover, Anton Schell, played by Rees, who wronged her decades earlier.
This is Rivera's debut performance with the theater festival. Her history with "The Visit," however, began in 2001, when she played the part of Claire in the premiere of the musical at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago.
"When I first heard the score, I just leapt. We enjoyed doing it and hoped to bring it to Broadway, but 9/11 [changed everything]," Rivera said, referring to the horrific attack that claimed the lives of nearly 3,000 people, mostly in New York City, and
"The Visit," starring Rivera, was next produced in 2008 at the Signature Theatre in Arlington, Va., where it was part of a festival devoted to the work of Kander and of Ebb, who died in 2004.
With this third production of "The Visit" comes renewed hope that the musical will transfer to Broadway.
"The third time is the charm," Rivera said.
A number of productions presented at the Williamstown Theatre Festival have gone on to Broadway, including "The Bridges of Madison County," "Hedda Gabler," "The Man Who Had All the Luck" and "The Elephant Man," which is scheduled to open at the Booth Theatre this fall.
Both the 2001 and 2007 productions of "The Visit" were directed by Frank Galati. Rivera said working with various directors is like meeting new people: They are all different.
"[With directors], you listen to their wonderful ideas and do what you can to make the play better," she said.
When Rees was asked if he ever wants to interject his point of view about what the director should or should not do, he replied, "No, not really, it's an actor's responsibility to make a scripted character believable - human and real."
Then he praised John Doyle, the director of "The Visit," saying, "Under John's wonderful custodianship, we are safe. "
Rivera chimed in that "John is a wonderful director, a very bright man. Now 'The Visit' is everything I expected it to be — it's so delicious!"
Rivera has danced and sung on stage to the music of iconic songwriters Kander and Ebb numerous times, and has won Tony Awards for her performances in two shows for which Kander composed the music and Ebb wrote the lyrics: "The Rink" and the "Kiss of the Spider Woman."
Rivera credits the duo for her success. "How lucky can you get to have two amazing writers by your side who are also your best friends? I would not be where I am without those men," she was quoted as saying at a celebratory benefit for her 80th birthday in 2013.
In an amazing 60-plus years career as an actress, dancer and singer, Rivera has received many accolades for her performances, including Kennedy Center Honors and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian award.
Rivera shared some of her memories of the day in 2009 when President Barack Obama hung the Presidential Medal of Freedom around her neck.
"It was incredible — a thrill. I thought a Marine was going to come up to me and say, 'There's been a mistake, you shouldn't be here.' And I thought of my family when I was looking out of a window in the White House," said Rivera, a native of Washington, D.C. "My mother used to take my sister and me for walks around the White House."
In the interview with iBerkshires, Rivera revealed a side of her that audiences never see.
"The theater is a place I work and fear," she said. Yes, the woman whose performances are frequently described as "electrifying," suffers from stage fright.
And at a press preview held after rehearsals of "The Visit" had begun, the Broadway legend looked up to the heavens as she said, "I desperately need a lot of help." She added, "I don't just stand up and scream 'help' or anything like that."
A very young, vibrant 81, Rivera seems ageless, but she apparently accepts that we mere mortals cannot make time stand still.
"I would like my last musical to be with Kander and Ebb," she said. "Then I will just ice skate away."