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Violet


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Violet is revival of a 1997 musical by Brian Crawley with music by Jeanine Tesori. Sutton Foster is wonderful in the role of a disfigured girl who travels by Greyhound bus to Tulsa to meet an evangelical preacher who she hopes will heal her. Along the way she meets two soldiers and her life changes in ways she hadn't expected. Great musical moments abound in this simple show. A wonderful gospel number is one of the highlights and Joshua Henry as Flick, one of the soldiers, had the audience cheering. Highly recommended.

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Before seeing this musical revival, I wasn't familiar with the story.... Sadly, as a young girl, Violet gets hit in the face with an ax held by her father. She's taken to the doctor who happens to be drunk at the time and stitches her face up like a "shoe lace" leaving a very ugly scar. Her mother dies early in Violet's life and later her father passes. Now, alone, she wants to become as beautiful as the Hollywood actresses she sees in the magazines. Violet has heard of a TV evangelist with healing powers and hopes to find him to correct her looks. Now, the bus journey begins where she meets 2 soldiers, both take a liking to her regardless of her scar.

 

This revival has been nominated for 4 Tony Awards: 1. Best revival of a musical 2. Best performance by an actress in a leading role in a musical: Sutton Foster 3. Best performance by an actor in a Featured role in a musical: Joshua Henry 4. Best Direction of a Musical

 

The singing by the leads is excellent and the lively Gospel Choir gets your feet tapping and your hands clapping. Each actor had his/her moment to shine with a special song... I didn't leave humming any songs but did accidentally bump into Sutton Foster as she was exiting a back door and got her autograph. She was extremely friendly to the few of us standing there.

 

FYI: This is almost a 2 hour show with no intermission. I wish I had known that before taking my seat.

 

http://images.bwwstatic.com/upload10/697813/tn-500_violetperformancewm230147768.jpg

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Boy I hate reviews that just compare a new production to the original. It just makes me crazy.

 

And here I go: I loved Violet when it opened at Playwright's Horizons in 1997 with Lauren Ward, Michael McElroy and Michael Park. And I loved it again when they did a reunion concert in 2003 with most (all?) of the original cast. (Sorry, my program for that is buried in a box.) I was very excited when they announced that Sutton Foster was doing a one-night only concert of it last year as part of the first season of Encores Off-Center summer series. And I loved that as well. (And it was a thrill to be sitting directly behind Michael Park and Michael McElroy.)

 

So of course I was very pleased when they announced that the Roundabout was doing a more fully produced version at the AA theater this spring. And guess what? I loved it again.

 

Back in '97, this was my first real intro to Jeanine Tesori...(I hadn't noticed that she'd done the dance arrangements for the Matthew Broderick How to Succeed....) But here was a score that was country and gospel and full of heart and soul, and most of all, different from most of the things playing on Broadway at that time. (The musicals that year included the revival of Chicago (still running), The Life, Annie with Nell Carter, Steel Pier, Titanic, and Scarlet Pimpernel.)

 

From the opening Water in the Well, I was sucked right in, meeting young Violet as she has the accident that leaves her so terribly scarred.

 

My favorite scene is always the Luck of the Draw, which depicts two card games, one in flashback as young Violet learns math (and cards) from her father, while the current Violet outplays her two soldier friends. I love the symmetry of the music and the staging.

 

I am glad the current production got rid of the scene where Violet's suitcase is stolen...I always wanted to yell at the stage "Come on! Give this poor girl a break!" And it turns out the scene was extraneous anyway. This and some other cuts also allowed the current production to eliminate the intermission, so it runs a sleek two hours, (which is long these days), but adds to the power of the piece as it never lets up as she heads toward her miracle preacher and (to the audience's mind) certain disappointment.

 

The show builds to Raise Me Up, a terrific gospel number at the preacher's Tulsa, Oklahoma church. And this is always an opportunity to raise the roof. And Rema Webb really delivers here. Hallelujah! (Someone actually shouted it out.)

 

Violet's cathartic Look at Me is so lovely and perfect for Ms. Foster's voice...and while I mention her voice, I also reiterate what a delight it is to see her playing something so different from Millie Dilmount, Reno Sweeney or Princess Fiona.

 

My sole quibble with this production is that I never really saw a scar on Foster's lovely face. I don't recall exactly, but I seem to remember Lauren Ward continually pulling her hair down, in front of her face to hide the blemish, whereas the director here has Foster often pushing her hair behind her ear.

 

The supporting cast is terrific, most notably Joshua Henry as Flick, and Colin Donnell as Monty, the two soldiers who befriend Violet.

 

I am so glad that more folks are now getting a chance to hear Tesori's music. And each show she does has it's own flavor...from this to Thoroughly Modern Millie to Caroline, Or Change to Shrek...and most recently: last fall's Fun Home. I'm to the point where I will get a ticket for anything to which I see her name attached.

 

The logistics: Violet is playing at the American Airlines theater thru August 10th. It has been recorded and the CD is due June 3. I am a Roundabout subscriber so my seat was very good, for a very reasonable price. This production has been nominated for four Tonys: Best Revival of a Musical, Direction, and nod for Sutton Foster as Lead Actress and Joshua Henry as Featured Actor.

 

(And by the way, Mr. Henry will be Seth Rudetsky's guest at the Chatterbox tomorrow (Thursday 5/8) at Don't Tell Mama on 46th Street. 5:00-6:00. $10 donation to BE/EFA and two drink minimum. If you come, I will be there. Say hello.)

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