‘Visit’ isn’t going Public next season

Lack of funds sinks musical's Gotham debut

NEW YORK — The Public Theater won’t be welcoming “The Visit” to its 2003-04 season as originally announced.

The new musical by Terrence McNally, John Kander and Fred Ebb was to begin performances in February but has been dropped from the sked.

In a statement, the company said, “Like most nonprofit theatrical institutions, we at times need enhancement money to enable us to produce work — and that was the situation with ‘The Visit.’ ”

A report in the New York Post said commercial producers Jeffrey Seller and Kevin McCollum had withdrawn $500,000 promised to the show.

But Barry Brown, the show’s longtime champion and another commercial producer with money in the Public production, disputed the theater’s description of events.

“It wasn’t enhancement money. They weren’t going to put up any money,” Brown said. “They were looking for commercial producers to put up everything.”

He put the cost of producing “The Visit” at the Public “in excess of $1.5 million.”

Set to star Chita Rivera and Frank Langella, the Public’s production of “The Visit” had been expected to open downtown at the theater’s Lafayette venue and then, reviews pending, transfer to a commercial Broadway production later in the year.

The show has not enjoyed an easy ride. The original Broadway production was canceled when star Angela Lansbury withdrew due to her husband’s illness. Chi’s Goodman Theater then picked up the project to give the show its world premiere in 2001, with Rivera and John McMartin headlining under the direction of Frank Galati. The Public production would have marked the show’s Gotham debut.

It has been seven years since Brown first approached the creatives about writing a musical based on the Friedrich Durrenmatt classic.

Most Broadway musicals today are capitalized at $8 million or more.

Recent musicals projects at the Public have had commercial producers (and their money) attached: DreamWorks held the commercial option on “Radiant Baby,” staged there last spring; and producers Carole Shorenstein Hays and Frederick De Mann are involved with the new Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori musical “Caroline, or Change,” to begin performances at the Public in October.

Brown said there were other productions of the new McNally/Kander & Ebb musical “on the horizon” but would not offer details.