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BWW Review: Skylight's Endearing VIOLET Shatters Visions between the Miraculous and Mundane

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Photo Credit: Mark Frohna

For the 2016-2017 no "shrinking violet" opening of the Cabot Theatre Stage, Skylight Music Theatre presents the 1997 award-winning musical, Violet. Set in the mid 1960's, the Broadway Theatre Center production relates to a young woman's journey when her father accidentally disfigured her face and left a traumatic facial scar amid the burgeoning civil rights movement and beginnings of the Vietnam war. When Violet travels from North Carolina to Oklahoma carrying her dream and hope that a faith healer will remove the scar, the young Southern woman encounters various people on her Greyhound bus ride to remind the audience life's miracles arise in multiple forms when the heart opens the eyes and mind and removes the mundane from the material world.

Interestingly enough, Jeanine Tesori' music in collaboration with Brian Crawley's lyrics and book transformed Doris Betts's short story, "The Ugliest Pilgrim," into this toe tapping musical featuring a cadre of musical genres. Directed by Milwaukee's Sheri Williams Pannell, the actor/composer infuses immense experience to the production and adds an authentic touch to the score-especially the rousing Gospel numbers that need to be sung with genuine fervor while gently questioning the validity of faith healers. The score resonates on the more than 20 original songs, all pure pleasure to listen to by this talented cast when accompanied by an eight piece orchestra under Musical Director Anne Van Deusen.

Violet's character requires a delicate balance of faith and hope in the face of unexplained disappointment.and tragedy. Allie Babich's Violet centers the musical with a crystal clear vision of Violet's chutzpah and optimism in a rural Southern girl's persona. Babich's voice rings loud and clear, never wavering in this clarity and underlying purpose that drives Violet's journey, even when opposed by those she meets alongside her in the bus seats, or those who look away when they see her face..

This includes two soldiers, Monty and Flint, who approach her mission with continual misgiving, even try to deter her from her journey. Still they fall for the vulnerable Southern girl, filled with charm if not facial beauty...although Babich radiates plenty of charm while her facial scar fades into invisibility. Lamar Jefferson stands out as Flick, the African American soldier who suffers from "an ugly skin color" instead of a scar...and is often derided for his face in another way. Monty personifies the proud white soldier, and eventuAl Green Beret, through Alex Mace, who also tries to love Violet---at first because she is merely another women he thinks needs his attentions, and then as a man who has grown to see beyond her disfigured beauty. Each man intensifies Violet's journey, and adds substantially to the musical score with their fine voices.

Of special note in Violet, a young actor KyLee Hennes, intermittently sings and speaks of Violet's childhood, weaving in and out of the action on stage. This device develops how the childhood loss of Violet's mother changed the relationship with her father. With a vibrant personality, and a voice to match, Hennes shines through this story like sun on North Carolina mountain, an exceptional performance for her Skylight debut. In alternate performances, Ella Rose Kleefisch plays the young Violet.

A great chorus of actors completes the cast, including Cynthia Cobb, Raven Dockery, Samantha Sostarich, Jeff Schaetzke and Ryan Stajimiger. Rick Pendzich does a marvelous job in the role of the Preacher, who tries to push Violet away, repeating trite religious cliches she has no need of a healing, her face is the suffering she must bear...there is nothing physically wrong with her. He presents a counterpoint to 60's society that Violet lives in, one revering the movie stars beauty and physical charms, which will ultimately fade,

Ultimately, Flint helps Violet see herself transfigured through the rousing finale, "Bring Me The Light." After her journey, both men value Violet for the unique woman she has grown into, a small miracle in itself, regardless of her past childhood traumas. These miracles transform the mundane into forces that can shatter perceptions of the world, whether experienced in body image, self esteem, racial/social prejudice or wars. Throughly endearing and entertaining, the Skylight's Violet revels in the glories of ordinary miracles. Where each audience member realizes their power to transform the ugliest experiences in the world to incomparable beauty, never shrinking from these opportunities, exactly like Violet herself.

The Skylight Music Theatre presents Violet at the Cabot Theatre in the Historic Third Ward Broadway Theatre Center through October 16. For more information, performance schedule, special events or tickets, please call: 414.291.7800 or www.skylightmusictheatre.org.


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