BWW Reviews: VIOLET at Ford's Theatre - A Musical That Needs Work
The Off-Broadway musical VIOLET in 1997 won both Drama Critics Circle and Lucille Lortel Awards for Best Musical. It was composer Jeanine Tesori's first musical she has ever written. Due in large part to the successful "Encore Series" revival last summer with Sutton Foster in the leading role of Violet, the Roundabout Theatre Company is reviving the musical on Broadway beginning previews on March 28 with Foster again in the lead. With lyrics and book by Brian Crawley, this incarnation will be greatly reduced to just one act and after seeing the show at the beautifully restored Ford's Theatre in a production directed by Jeff Calhoun, this may be a very good idea. The show is certainly lacking.
You certainly cannot fault the superb cast for the disappointing presentation. They give it all. Erin Driscoll is just plain superb as the leading role of Violet who has huge scar on her face that she suffered as a young child (brilliantly portrayed by Lauren Williams) and begins a long journey from her home in Spruce Pine, NC to get salvation from a televangelist (Gregory Maheu) who Violet hopes will make her scar disappear. A major problem of the play I believe is that there is NO scar. Not on Violet as a young girl or as a 25 year-old woman. Thanks to readers for informing me that this fact is part of the script. The audience to supposed to imagine the scar. But, can you imagine PHANTOM OF THE OPERA asking audiences to imagine his scarred face?
While on the long excursion on a Greyhound bus, Violet meets two Army buddies Monty (the always terrific James Gardiner) and Flick (played by the amazing Kevin McAllister in a break-out role). The era is 1964 in the middle of Civil Rights era and the Vietnam War. While Monty is white, Flick is black, and the naive Violet finds out for the first time how society looks towards minorities.
While Monty has his thoughts on bedding Violet, Flick on the other hand feels a great deal of affection towards Violet and her obvious struggles dealing with her disability.
The musical does have some wonderful scenes like a dance hall in Memphis (I noticed the audience waking up)and the appearnce of a gospel choir which almost steals the show. Wait until you hear the voices of Kellee Knighten Hough and Nova Y. Payton (so remarkable in DREAMGIRLS at the Signature and soon to appear at the Arena Stage in SMOKEY JOE'S CAFE). What does the Choir reveal...that the televangelist is a no-good individual.
Violet finally arrives in Tulsa and is confronted with reality for the first time facing the pastor and seeing him like she never expected.
There is one superb melody in the show which I have heard before on the Sirius/XM Broadway channel, "Let it Sing" sung beautifully by McAllister.
Playing Violet's father is the always entertaining Bobby Smith who has a lovely number toward the end of the show, "That's What I Could Do".
There are clever sets by Tobi Ost (which includeds the largest bus rest room you've ever seen), good lighting by Michael Gilliam, and interesting projections by Aaron Rhyne which follow the travels of the Greyhound Bus.
Jay Croweder is the Musical Director and he and the eight piece orchestra provide a great accompaniment.
I commend the Ford Theatre for bringing a "new" musical to the area. I wish they waited until after the Roundabout Revival.
VIOLET runs until Feburary 23, 2014. You may like it more than I did. The performances certainly will not disappoint.
For tickets, call 202-347-4833 or visit www.fords.org.