Sutton Foster has chosen her next project well, the Broadway premiere of Tesori and Crawley’s Violet, which played off-Broadway in 1997. Violet (Foster), a young woman of the North Carolina mountains, travels by Greyhound bus across the South in 1964 seeking physical redemption. Her face disfigured by a scar (thankfully, left to our imagination) from a childhood accident, she is certain that a faith healer in Tulsa can restore her body. Indeed, this Preacher might grant her an entire suite of feminine attractions, as Violet sings in the entertaining “All to Pieces.” On her trip, she meets two servicemen, one white (charming Monty), one black (Flick, a bit hot-headed), and the trio bond quickly.
It will come as little surprise that the Preacher (energetically performed by Ben Davis) can do no such thing for Violet, although he puts on a much better show than the Wizard of Oz, with the second-half gospel barnburner “Raise Me Up.”
The story of Violet’s childhood and the accident that ended it is told in flashback, interleaved with the narrative of her Tulsa journey. Emerson Steele as Young Violet brings a twangy, innocent exuberance to her role. The details of the mishap are left ambiguous, whether to smooth out some of its creepier implications from the source material (Doris Betts’ short story, which I have not read), or just so that we can draw our own conclusions about how life’s misfortunes happen.
The score is an assemblage of various influences, as Anthony Tommasini has noted. It’s laudable that most of the song structures follow life’s sharp twists and turns, rather than falling into an intro-verse-chorus simplicity.
But the end of Violet’s journey (the one that doesn’t go from east to west but from heart to heart) is somewhat unsatisfying. The connection between the strictures against Violet’s scar and Flick’s skin color wasn’t earned, at least for OTC and me.
Nevertheless, the show it a great showcase for Foster’s clear, sweet voice and Broadway charisma.
- Violet, music by Jeanine Tesori, book and lyrics by Brian Crawley, based on “The Ugliest Pilgrim,” by Doris Betts, directed by Leigh Silverman, Roundabout Theatre Company, American Airlines Theatre, New York