Update: Violet has been extended through June 30
A Review: This moving musical, a 2014 Tony Award nominee, follows the title character on her quest for identity. Violet the person (Claire Adams) is a 25-year-old who leaves her rural North Carolina home in 1964 to be healed by a televangelist in Tulsa. Violet the show takes us along for the two-day bus ride, as meaningful to her as King Arthur’s search for the Grail.
The facial disfigurement that sparks Violet’s trip is unseen by the audience, to whom Violet is beautiful, bright and confident. But her strength is built on the firm belief that she can be healed, her face remade with features copied from stars of the day, including Gene Tierney and Ava Gardner. Violet asks us to examine how much we accept others’ views of beauty, and how we try to remake ourselves in service of those views.
Violet’s younger self (Lily Zager) interacts with her father (John Allsopp) in parallel and overlapping scenes, adding depth and context. There’s a touch of the Wizard of Oz to the preacher (Kevin Shewey). Violet examines society and individuals from multiple angles; the romantic angle is somewhat disjointed, but key to Violet’s journey.
Violet captures the surface innocence, casual racism and narrowly defined normalcy that characterized the early sixties, especially in the rural south. The dingy dresses and crisp uniforms reinforce the era’s feel. The music ranges from the comedic “Anyone Would Do,” to the lullaby “Lay Down Your Head” and the clap-along gospel of “Raise Me Up.”
Claire Adams brings Violet to life through remarkable vocal and acting skills. Soldier Flick (Jahmaul Bakare) is also a standout. Actors Co-op regular Lori Berg almost steals the show with her transformation from grandma on the bus to drunk and staggering hotel hooker – and then to gospel choir member.
The production masterfully utilizes the entire space, opening up a cramped bus to mirror the way the characters’ emotions are released. The bus becomes a bed in a rooming house, a roadhouse dance club and a televangelist’s pulpit. Director Richard Israel beautifully choreographs the shifting locations and evolving identities.
You’ll leave feeling like you’ve been to a revival meeting: uplifted and entertained.
Two acts with intermission; running time about 2 hours 15 minutes.
Through June 17 at the Crossley Theater, 1760 N. Gower St.
Tickets at https://www.actorsco-op.org/violet or (323) 462-8460.
Speaking of the grail: free parking in a lot across from the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood, on whose campus the theater is located.
Music by Jeanine Tesori (Fun Home, Shrek The Musical and Soft Power, currently playing at the Ahmanson)
Book & Lyrics by Brian Crawley
Based on The Ugliest Pilgrim by Doris Betts
Directed by Richard Israel
Produced by Thomas Chavira
About Laura Foti Cohen
Laura Foti Cohen has lived in the Brookside neighborhood since 1993. She works as a freelance writer, editor and consultant. She's also a playwright affiliated with Neo Ensemble Theatre in Hollywood.
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