Oscar E Moore

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VIOLET – a remarkable, reimagined Sutton Foster mesmerizes in this gripping musical

April 21st, 2014 by Oscar E Moore

Standing tall and plain without any makeup Sutton Foster – center stage – in a spot light that she truly deserves – begins to take us on a Greyhound bus journey of discovery (North Carolina to Tulsa Oklahoma) September 1964.

A journey that has taken the creators of VIOLET Jeanine Tesori (music) and Brian Crawley (book & lyrics) seventeen years to reach Broadway (after its premier off Broadway at Playwrights Horizon in 1997) at the American Airlines Theatre where this incredible, gripping and entertaining Roundabout production has opened under the radar with an explosive impact of talent that stuns, leaving you shaken as the journey ends.

Violet (a remarkable and reimagined Sutton Foster) has been left with a horrible disfiguring scar on her face that we do not see but that has had a deep traumatic effect on her life long after the wood chopping accident when her father’s axe let loose havoc on her plain but attractive face.

She has been bullied. Made fun of.  Called horrible names.  And now she is on her way to Tulsa where she expects televangelist preacher (Charlie Pollack) to heal her – to make her as beautiful as the movie sirens she reads about so that someone will love her.

Despite the scar that haunts her she is a sharp and willful young woman.  A whiz at poker – a game that her father (Alexander Gemignani) taught her as a young Violet (Emerson Steele) that we see in flashback.  She’s quick but guarded.  With a lethal wit and a look that could kill.  And she can sing a tender lullaby “Lay Down Your Head” after a sexual encounter and powerfully deliver “Look At Me” without once losing sight of her character or any of her natural charisma.

On the bus depot unit set (David Zinn) where the band sits on a slightly higher level playing the beautiful and terrific arrangements (Rick Bassett, Joseph Joubert & Buryl Red) of Ms. Tresori’s wondrous blue grass, gospel and land of the South inspired score, Violet’s story unfolds simply and stylistically under the graceful and sharp direction of Leigh Silverman who has given a special aura to this production.

The book and lyrics by Brian Crawley are superior to any that you will hear on Broadway or Off.  Each song is smart or funny or touching or rousing – with rich details of character throughout.

On her way Violet meets up with two Army buddies.  Monty (Colin Donnell) the good looking, arrogant, looking for a good time, one night stand sort of guy and Flick (Joshua Henry) who knows only too well what it is to be an outcast as he is black.  They all become friends and when they have a stopover night along the route they hit the town and party with some great dance moves supplied by Jeffrey Page – and it is the first time we see Violet smile.

Of course Flick and Monty each want something from Violet and it is this odd triangle that sets off most of the conflict.  Not to mention the guilt of her dad over the accident.  As she travels on Violet learns more about herself and friendship and even love, learning from those around her including a chatty Old Woman (Annie Golden).

Flick has a show stopping heart throbbing song “Let It Sing” an anthem that brings the house down with its stirring words and music.  And his majestic voice.

It is when Violet meets the preacher that we hear his television Gospel singers led on by Lula Buffington (a phenomenal Rema Webb) sing the inspiration “Raise Me Up” – but is this a service or a show?  He dismisses her. He has no time for her. Violet insists that he heal her.  The outcome is a revelation.  Both for Violet and us.

You must take this journey with Sutton Foster who is phenomenal as are all of her fellow cast members.  It is a production that insists that you remember and feel deep in your soul and realize what it truly means to be beautiful.

VIOLET is based on “The Ugliest Pilgrim” by Doris Betts.

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Photos:  Joan Marcus


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