BWW Review: VIOLET Charms at St. Edwards

BWW Review: VIOLET Charms at St. Edwards

VIOLET is a 1997 musical with music by Jeanine Tesori and book and lyrics by Brian Crawley. It's based on the short story "The Ugliest Pilgrim" by Doris Betts. The musical first premiered Off-Broadway in 1997 and won the Drama Critics' Circle Award and Lucille Lortel Award as Best Musical, it was later produced on Broadway but considered a revival. While it was Tony Award nominated, it did not win.

This mostly musical show (28 songs) tells the story of Violet, a young woman who embarks on a bus journey in 1964 from her father's farm in Spruce Pine, North Carolina, all the way to Tulsa, Oklahoma in order to visit a televangelist she believes will heal her. Twelve years earlier a childhood accident left her scarred facially. Along the journey, Violet is presented with an even greater opportunity, where faith, hope and unconditional love, teach her that true beauty comes from within.

Director Nick Mayo has done a marvelous job with this piece, drawing remarkably nuanced, yet highly energized performances from the entire 18 member company. The staging is inventive and often is visually stunning. Music director Peter Stopschinski and vocal coach Adam Roberts get glorious harmonies and strong solos from the company with this country, gospel and blues tinged score. The set, by Ia Enstera, is as much a character as the performers, with an oblong tiled rotating center platform that serves as multiple locales along with doing duty as the bus. Four bus stations fill the four corners of the theatre and the bus is rotated to point toward the next destination. Suitcases become seats in her wonderfully inventive and functional design. Benjamin Taylor Ridgway's costumes are beautifully understated, presenting a panorama of down market sixties attire. The period between the clearly defined fifties and the mod period of the sixties is often hard to capture correctly because it was so unremarkable. Ridgway does a beautiful job of it, and wisely uses a faded pastel palette to reinforce the dust and dinge of Violet's journey. I also appreciated his use of Violet's hemline to reinforce her facial injury, since the production calls for no makeup to indicate Violet's scarring. Kathryn Eader lights the proceedings perfectly, conveying multiple locales with fluidity and ease. One very nice touch was the use of moving gobos to create the effect of ceiling fan shadows during the scene in the bus stop cafe.

There isn't a bad performance in the entire company and some of them are absolutely superb. David Long is a study of fatherly pain when he sings. Jarret Mallon oozes smarm as the Preacher. Christina Stroup is hilarious as Lula Buffington, the singer in the preacher's show. Gio Truvillion is charming as Flick and possesses a truly beautiful voice. Annie Eldridge delivers a memorable turn as Old Lady. Cassandra Valentin, as Violet, does a terrific job and holds her own carrying the title role, who really never leaves the stage. I also enjoyed Amelia Long as young Violet but I did have trouble understanding her more than once due to diction issues. An accurate accent is great only if the audience can understand you.

In all, St. Edwards delivers a smartly staged, high energy, beautifully sung version of VIOLET that can stand up against anything being produced anywhere in town. This is a highly entertaining evening of musical theatre with harmonies that are as heart warming to the ear as the show's message is to the heart.

VIOLET - Book and Lyrics by Brian Crawley, Music by Jeanine Tesori
Running Time: Two Hours with no intermission.

VIOLET produced by Mary Moody Northen Theatre at St. Edward's University (3001 S Congress Ave, Austin, TX, 78704).

Thursdays-Sundays, April 12 - April 22, 2018, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday - Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
TICKETS: $28 Adult ($23 Students, Seniors, St. Edward's community)
Box Office: 512-448-8484 or Online: www.stedwards.edu/theatre
Box Office Hours are 1 - 5 p.m. Monday - Friday
Student discount nights: April 12, April 18 and April 19: $12 ticket
Campus map: https://stedwards.app.box.com/v/campusparkingmap



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From This Author Frank Benge