Review Roundup: VIOLET Opens on Broadway - All the Reviews!
Roundabout Theatre Company's production of Violet, starring Sutton Foster, Colin Donnell, Alexander Gemignani and Joshua Henry, officially opened last night at the American Airlines Theatre on Broadway (227 West 42nd Street).
Based on the short story "The Ugliest Pilgrim" by Doris Betts, Violet features music byJeanine Tesori, book & lyrics by Brian Crawley and direction by Leigh Silverman. The creative team includes Jeffrey Page(Choreographer), Joseph Joubert and Buryl Red (Original Orchestrations) andMichael Rafter (Music Director). The design team includes David Zinn (Sets), Clint Ramos (Costumes), Mark Barton (Lights) and Leon Rothenberg (Sound).
Let's see what the critics had to say...
Joe Dziemianowicz, NY Daily News: [Foster] sings, 'I am on my way.' Buckle your seatbelts, folks. So are you. And what a wonderful trip it is...Songs by composer Jeanine Tesori and lyricist Brian Crawley add dimensions and textures, too. Summoning country-fried rhythms, gospel glory, bittersweet ballads and tender lullabies, the score is a rich and beautiful thing. Well-integrated too. Numbers make perfect sense and fuel characters and the plot like high-test gasoline...This journey unfolds a half-century ago, but you don't have to look far to see that the idea that life can change dramatically and devastatingly in a flash. What you do next becomes the question - and it makes this Violet evergreen.
Elysa Gardner, USA Today: Violethas the intimate feel of a chamber piece, so the vast space here doesn't seem like an ideal setting. Crawley's sensitive dialogue can drag at times - as can Tesori's rootsy score, which veers from country-flavored ballads to R&B and gospel-tinged production numbers. But Silverman and her cast reward our patience with performances that transcend clichés, taking care to make the fragility of these characters, and their different quests for dignity and love, authentic...The leading lady, not surprisingly, meets the challenges posed by her role - which proves a nice showcase for the folkier, more nuanced quality Foster's singing can take on when she's not belting to the back rows. Not that you'll have any problem hearing her here, or appreciating the courage and passion she brings to her latest star turn.
Chris Jones, The Chicago Tribune: Much of 'Violet' takes places on a bus, which lends itself to a minimalist staging with just a few chairs. The flashbacks should be simple, too. But once Violet and her GIs exit the bus, this production (which is designed by David Zinn) can't decide how (or whether) to build on its initial, simple style. The set expands and contracts. Some of the onstage musicians don robes and join a gospel choir. But you never really feel the pull of place, or of a lost time, nor the comforts of a well-defined imagined world. Foster throws herself into this unglamorous role, her face pale and her body propelled into a world of no self-confidence. It is a very honorable performance, filled with craft. Foster never condescends, and she clearly enjoys her character's intelligence, although she, too, struggles toward the end with the need for climax and consequence.
Charles Isherwood, The New York Times: If the time has come for Ms. Foster to take her place among the first rank of Broadway musical theater performers (fittingly in a season uncommonly rich in fine work from women), the moment also seems ripe for Violet, originally produced Off Broadway in 1997, to be acknowledged as an enduringly rewarding musical...But the musical concludes on a satisfying but not too sugary note of uplift. By shedding her illusions, at however painful a cost, Violet has also found a new kind of faith: a belief that her life's promise does not depend on divine intervention but the homelier comforts of human attachments.
Entertianment Weekly: As musicals go, the story couldn't be simpler. Yet the material couldn't be richer...As Violet travels from the Blue Ridge Mountains to Memphis to Tulsa, the music moves from warm, soul-stirring folk-the bulk and heart of the score-to smoky R&B and blues to full-throated gospel and back again. It's impossible not to get swept up by rousing numbers...And, more important, you'll have to imagine Violet's facial scar, the result of an ax blade swung accidentally by her father when she was a girl; Foster's face remains unblemished. Of course, from the start, you know she's on a fool's journey. But you'll never regret taking the ride.
Linda Winer, Newsday: So here it finally is, 17 years later and officially considered a revival, in a taut, vibrant, dirt-kicking show directed with exuberance and minimal fuss by Leigh Silverman...Colin Donnell plays the hunk, surprised to find himself drawn to her. Joshua Henry portrays the black man, the first Violet ever knew, who sings that he wants her to 'see me the way I see you'...In the middle of it all is Foster's Violet, with lank hair and lanky limbs and a glorious voice that cuts through complicated emotions without ever belting. She embodies both Violet's defensive armor and the childlike trust in a miracle that will give her 'Gene Tierney's eyes and Ava Gardner's eyebrows'...Yes, this is an ugly-duckling Cinderella tale about beauty being skin deep. But it is filled with unexpected details, compassion for its quirky characters and, especially, a rigorous score that reaches its own destinations through gospel, bluegrass and heart-aching anthems to tentative hopes.
Robert Hofler, The Wrap: Since every other song is geared to bring down the house, it's a surprise the American Airlines Theatre still stands. Several spare but lovely melodies continue to run through Tesori's music; one thing that the original Violet had going for it was simplicity, and the composer didn't overreach with a big Rosa's Turn the way she did with the eleven o'clock numbers in her subsequent shows Caroline, or Change and Fun Home. Some of that unadorned lyrical beauty remains in Violet's ballads, nicely sung by Sutton Foster. She succeeds in not competing with the showbiz brashness surrounding her, although the actress's signature can-do spunk doesn't always jibe with Violet's self-image. Perhaps that little inconsistency doesn't matter. The generic hillbilly twang that everyone sports is just make believe. Give these country folks a song, and they can't help but turn into Broadway babies.
Mark Kennedy, Associated Press: Some musicals are big and brassy, calling out for attention with their razzle-dazzle and sassy sets. Others are more demure, letting their simple beauty shine. How appropriate then that a show about inner loveliness chose the latter path...Violet is a reminder - if we have already forgotten the power of Once - that a Broadway musical has to hit your heart as much as be visually pretty. A recent preview of Violet left some in the audience crying and smiling. And that's with a show that has actors simply bumping up and down on chairs to recreate a bus trip...It's not too hard to figure out that a show about a woman who thinks she's repulsive will ultimately deal with issues of beauty and the nature of love. It does, but it also explores guilt and belief, proving there's a lot you can do when you have great songs, wonderful singers and keep it simple.
David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: Broad strokes and big effects often appear to be the default setting for Broadway musicals, so it's always refreshing to see a modestly scaled show in which the cast and creative team trust in the value of emotional intimacy. Driven by a performance of incandescent yearning fromSutton Foster that's all the more moving for its restraint, Violet is a delicate wildflower, craning toward the sun...While the story could be treacly sentiment in less skilled hands, Violet brings a quiet spiritual undertow to its characters' search for fortifying connections. It's emotionally satisfying without being manipulative. Even the heroine's inevitably deflating encounter with the televangelist is handled with a delicate touch, becoming less about religious hucksterism than faith of a more human nature.
Michael Dale, BroadwayWorld: While there are no miracles of biblical proportions, Violet ends with emotional cleansing, self-realization and hopefulness...Sutton Foster is that rare above-the-title Broadway star who can match polished musical theatre craft with an approachable everywoman quality. As Violet, she mixes her character's devout trust in the Lord with a protective shell of distrust built from twelve years of blaming her dad for both her initial injury and how he handled its aftermath and from dealing with the repulsed and cruel treatment she's received from others for half her life. It was the best acting performance of her New York career...Violet is a small musical of big ideas. Its spectacle comes in its writing and in the opportunity for singing actors to play intriguing characters. This production is not to be missed.
Dave Quinn, NBC New York: Those expecting to see Sutton Foster belting and tap-dancing her way through her latest Broadway leading-role should be warned: the 39-year-old actress, who won Tonys for her turns in Thoroughly Modern Millie and Anything Goes, provides a restrained, intricate performance in Violet, the Jeanine Tesori-Brian Crawley musical now open at the American Airlines Theatre...It's hard to believe Violet was Testori's first musical, as her score is rich with complex melodies and delicate themes. A blend of country, gospel, blues and bluegrass, Tesori's music pay tribute to the best of the American roots. Crawley's lyrics are pure poetry, utilizing the plain-spoken language of the time to create beautiful illustrations of the difference between perception and reality...For Broadway, book writer Crawley has cut Violet from a two-act play into a one-act. At nearly two hours without intermission, Foster never leaves the stage. This is Violet's story, and Violet wouldn't dare let anyone else tell it. Which is good, because you'll fall in love with Foster so wholeheartedly, you won't want her to leave anytime soon.
Adam Feldman, TimeOut New York: It took 17 years, but Jeanine Tesori's beloved musical about a woman with a facial deformity journeying through the 1960s South has made it to Broadway...In expanding Betts's story, Crawley freights these relationships with more weight than his writing supports, and small moments of exaggeration (in the writing and staging) interfere with the piece's mood. But Tesori's music is a savory stew of American roots, stirringly sung by a cast that includes Emerson Steele as a younger Violet and Rema Webb as a gospel soloist. Though flawed on its face, Violet provides-as Flick sings in the show's best song-reason to rejoice.
Robert Feldberg, Bergen Record: The moment Violet encounters the evangelist, who's with his choir, you know the singers will perform a rousing hallelujah number ("Raise Me Up"), led by an African-American woman (Rema Webb). The takeaway from the show, after Violet finds love but not physical transformation, is that true beauty lies within. That's comforting, and perhaps even true, but do we need to hear it again at Broadway ticket prices?
Matt Windman, amNY: Everything about "Violet" is extraordinary, from its captivating, character-driven storytelling and pulsating country-rock score to the focused direction from Leigh Silverman and pitch-perfect casting. Sutton Foster, a two-time Tony winner, gives her most expressive, deeply felt and vibrant performance to date, fully capturing the character's yearning and volatility. It ought to be required viewing for all aspiring stage actors. She is joined by the similarly excellent Joshua Henry, Colin Donnell, Alexander Gemignani, Annie Golden and Ben Davis.
Jesse Green, Vulture: But when it sings, Violet obviates such concerns. I don't mean just when it melodizes. Crawley's dialogue is as pungent and musical as his lyrics. And in Sutton Foster he and Tesori have found the ideal star. Foster has never been a vain actress, but here she seems to relish the opportunity to strip away everything inessential. (She has one costume, and it ain't pretty.) All spunk erased from her delivery, she's riveting in her portrayal of a woman who, despite everything, is ready to learn, from a black friend, about the thinness of skin. That's a very American story, in contrast, say, to The Cripple of Inishmaan, in which the title character's deformity particularizes the universal and irreversible ugliness of humanity. We're never even shown Violet's disfigurement - which, by the end, is the only thing wrong with her.
Steven Suskin, Huffington Post: If Foster is exceptional in the title role, she is strongly supported by Henry, Donnell and especially the teen-aged Steele. Director Leigh Silverman (Chinglish) enhances her Encores work, taking the show's built-in production concept--a bus consisting solely of chairs, the heroine's disfiguring deformity suggested only by the facial reactions of the other actors--and using them to great advantage. The nine-piece band and the strong chorus are firmly led by music director Michael Rafter, who has a long history with both Foster and Tesori.