Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern
Also see John's review of Jekyll & Hyde
Violet Karl (Lindsey Corey) has deep facial scars resulting from a childhood accident when the head of an axe flew off of its handle as her father (Shane Tanner) was chopping wood. Now a young woman, Violet sets out by bus on a pilgrimage from Spruce Pine, North Carolina, to Tulsa, Oklahoma, to have her disfigured face healed by a prominent television evangelist (Rusty Allison). On her journey, Violet keeps a journal about the things she sees and people she meets, all the while praying that the Lord will grant her the facial beauty of her favorite movie stars. She soon discovers fellow passengers on individual quests of their own, such as an old woman on her way to see her son in Nashville (Gail Byer). She also meets a black sergeant in his early thirties named Flick (Andre Russell), and a slightly younger, white corporal named Monty (Alex Jorth). She finds a bond of comradery with both men, neither of whom seem to mind her scar. But there is the potential for more than just friendship with both of themwith pros and cons. How much of her quest to be healed is based on her need to feel truly worthy of romantic love? Violet's pilgrimage is in the end actually one of personal discovery.
Slow Burn tackles this contemporary musical with aplomb. As much as one might wish for more detailed scenic design, the all-purpose set in this case does serve all the purposes of the script rather well. Musical director many Schvartzman leads the six-piece live band with finesse through music styles ranging from gospel to bluegrass. On the night attended there were unfortunate scattered microphone issues leaving some of the performers either unintelligible or inaudible. Hopefully, this is something that will be resolved going forward. Despite this, the cast seems to be fine weaving their way through complex harmonies in assorted combinations of duos, trio, and ensemble pieces.
Alex Jorth is perfection as Monty: Dashing, callow, and admittedly a bit of a player, his charm is so disarming that it would be impossible not to like him. It is completely understandable that Violet would let down her guard for him. One of the strongest moments in the show is the scene in which Violet sings the song "Lay Down Your Head" to a sleeping Monty who has let down his own guard to share with Violet his tender, vulnerable side.
Lindsey Corey turns in a strong performance as Violet, navigating her way through the emotional acting and singing demands of the role. As is typical for this show, the director has chosen to not show Violet with any scarring, asking the audience to instead imagine the scar as severe or as mild as they wish, for it is merely the outward manifestation of whatever imperfection we each bear inside or out. That worked for me for most of the show, but for a few moments in song I forgot the physically attractive actress was portraying an unattractive character. In the bus terminal scene following her visit to be healed, we all wanted nothing more than to see the face of Violet as pretty as the face of Corey, so as an actress she succeeds in taking us on her journey with her.
Andre Russell portrays a conflicted Flick, reticent to take action to grasp what he wants. It is because of his reticence that we are unclear about his sincerity. But that doubt makes the ending of the show a bit of a surprise. Without it, Violet's choice would be predictable. His emotional delivery of the song "Let It Sing" is his shining moment.
Kendra Williams plays the gospel soloist and rightfully lists herself as a "powerhouse vocalist" in her program bio. She rocks the rafters when she raises her voice in the exhilarating "Raise Me Up." Shane Tanner as the Father doesn't get as much stage time as one would hope, as his character helps explain Violet more fully. However, his presence and subtext in the song "That's What I Could Do" is stirring and true. Lucia Fernandez de los Muros as young Violet was plagued by microphone issues that made almost everything she sang or said either indistinguishably muddy or painfully loud. Gail Byer is adorable as the Old Lady on the bus, but we lost her as the Hotel Hooker due to mic issues.
Many good things lie in this production, and as stated previously, Slow Burn is ever fearless in tackling their shows. Still, at times, there is a degree of heart and artistry missing in this show that should be filled with heart, which is what Violet is about. At times creating the best production is about getting back to basics and making each component honest and true. It is just a matter of art vs. commercialism in the handling of each piece of the puzzle, and that can be a difficult journey.
Violet premiered Off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons on March 11, 1997, and closed on April 6, 1997. It won the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award and Lucille Lortel Award as Best Musical. Following a one-night Encores! Off-Center Series production in 2013, Violet officially opened on Broadway at the American Airlines Theatre on April 20, 2014. It closed on August 10, 2014, receiving four Tony Award nominations and three Drama Desk Award nominations.
Composer and lyricist Jeanine Tesori is cited as the most prolific and honored female theatrical composer in history, with four Tony Awards and five Broadway musicals: Fun House, Caroline or Change, Shrek the Musical, Thoroughly Modern Millie, and Violet. The credits of her partner for Violet, playwright Brian Crawley, include the musicals The Little Princess (Andrew Lippa) and Evangeline (Ted Dykstra).
This Slow Burn Theatre production of Violet will be appearing through February 7, 2016, in the Amaturo Theater of the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. The Broward Center for the Performing Arts is located in the Riverwalk Arts & Entertainment District at 201 SW Fifth Avenue in Fort Lauderdale, FL. For tickets or other information, call 954-462-0222, or visit www.slowburntheatre.com.
*Indicates member of Actors' Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States