Theater Review - Violet (NY)

“Violet” is a musical that played Off Broadway in 1997 for less than a month. Based on a short story, “The Ugliest PiIgrim” by Doris Betts, it was written by Jeanine Tesori (Music) and Brian Crawley (Lyrics). I am afraid their score is less than felicitous.  It is now being revived with Sutton Foster in the lead part, which brings some cache to the show, just is not enough. Foster, a most talented singer and dancer, adopts an unpleasant voice for this, and her younger self, played by Emerson Steele, hits some of the sharpest tones I have ever heard. The show has a preposterous theme, which is handled in a very simple and skimpy way.


Violet, a plain young woman in her thirties, is traveling by bus from North Carolina to Oklahoma to have her face faith-healed.  It seems she suffered an accidental axe cut to her face by her now-dead father, the hard-working Alexander Gemignani, when she was young; the scar has left her tortured by all who see her. She has seen a Preacher (Ben Davis) on TV heal people, so she’s off to get the features of a movie actresses popular in the year 1964. The names of Ava Gardner, Cyd Charisse and Jean Tierney and the likes are invoked. Talk about being dated!     


On route she meets an Old Lady played by Annie Golden, who used to be young, and two soldiers, the white, carefree Monty—an attractive Colin Donnell--- and the black, serious Flick, portrayed by Joshua Henry. It is not a fair battle, for Henry has the most gorgeous voice; he does not sound like he should be in this show which is all twang. They treat her well, until Monty sleeps with her, which enrages Flick.  In the end, Violet realizes that the Preacher can’t help her and that Flick’s love is sincere and lasting.


Meanwhile, much of the last half of the musical “Violet” (that is almost two hours without intermission)is a gospel show like “Leap of Faith” except –darn it--they did not hand out funny money. The set by David Zinn and costumes by Clint Ramos look like they spent about ten cents on all!  “Violet”-- not a good time at the American Airlines Theatre.  

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