Violet – A Musical

Music by Jeanine TesoriViolet A Musical

Lyrics & Book by Brian Crawley

Directed by Elizabeth Margolius

Choreographer Andrew Waters

Produced by Bailiwick Chicago

At the Mercury Theatre, Chicago

Uneven and tone problems mare Violet -A Musical.

The problems contained in Tesori & Crawley’s Violet – A Musical range from tone problems to a too generous pastiche of musical styles that contained blends of rhythms of blues, bluegrass, Country & Western and gospel music. Violet has structure problems including the mystery of how a girl from rural Spruce Pine, North Carolina in 1964 could learn from her hillbilly father not only the tricks of poker but sophisticated techniques of card cheating. How does a country guy learn such things? And if, somehow, he did learn these tricks why isn’t he in Vegas making boat loads of money?

Violet A Musical

Next, Violet is traumatized enough from her large hideous scar across her face that, once her father passes (we never learn how), she embarks on a journey of self-discovery to Tulsa, Oklahoma to get cured by a TV preacher.  Problem: we don’t see any scar on Harmony France, who plays Violet, making it difficult for us to empathize her with plight. Violet comes across as a self-assured individual when anyone who has grown up with a scar that makes folks shun her quickly develops a tough veneer that shields her pain. I saw no such defensiveness in Violet as played by Miss France.

Violet A Musical

Since most folks turn away from Violet in horror, it is improbable that two soldiers would strike up a flirting conversation with her? And in 1964 in the rural South a black man wouldn’t attempt to engage a white girl on a public bus. Not probable.

Violet A Musical

Violet is based on the short story “The Ugliest Pilgrim” by Doris Betts in which the young woman is bitter from her accident by her father that has left he disfigured. I found no bitterness in France’s Violet – thus the tone problem.

Violet unfolds as a chamber operetta that is mostly sung including sung dialogue at times with a curious blending of musical styles that finds a ballad morphing into a blues chant and  solo becoming a choral number with most of the cast. The music is over-produced and the 20 songs labor through slowing down the story at times rather than moving it forward.

The early scenes seem to depict Violet and her folks as “country bumpkins” and the passengers on the bus as rural stereotypes. Was all that trying to be satirical? Who knows? Violet’s encounter with  the two soldiers – Monty (Courtney Crouse) and the black soldier, Flick (Evan Tyrone Martin)  was preposterous since Violet was so disfigured that the soldiers would have probably passed on her.

The flashbacks and the use of Young Violet (Glynis Gilio) caused more doubts than it answered questions about Violet’s past.

Throughout the show, we hear one song after another, some of which added emotions or underscored the story while others just seem to be songs that the composers want to be in the show. The mixture of styles and the overuse of counterpoint muddled several songs.

While Harmony France sang her heart out and Evan Tyrone Martin soared, the cast otherwise contained weak to adequate voices that produced mostly flat harmonies. The ensemble work here was disappointing.

Once Violet gets to Tulsa, she meets the TV preacher (Jim DeSelm) who believes that he is a showman rather than a preacher. When Violet ask him for help, he dismisses her quickly. Again, tone problems since the work doesn’t go far enough to mock the hypocrisy of the TV preacher.  A missed opportunity.

So Violet is an ambitious, over-produced and uneven operetta that could use a 30 minute trim (it runs almost 2 and a half hours). It needs a tighter focus and a stronger depiction of the scared principal character.  The songs could be tailored and simplified to more directly enhance the mood and emotions of the story. Stronger singers would help also.

As presented, Bailiwick Chicago’s Violet, while containing some fine moments, doesn’t hold together as a complete work. The score is serviceable yet forgettable.  Harmony France’s performance may be the only reason to see this show.

Somewhat Recommended

Tom Williams

 

Jeff Recommended

At the Mercury Theatre, 3745 N. Southport Ave., Chicago, IL, call 773-325-1700, tickets $27.5- – $32.50, Fridays at 7:30 pm, Saturdays at 3 & 7:30 pm, Sundays at 3 pm,running time is 2hours, 25 minutes with intermission, through October 16, 2011