Theatre in Review

Tuesday, 12 December 2017 23:30

Gorgeous Musical Journey by Greyhound Richly Revives the Broadway Gem, Violet Featured

Written by
Nicole Laurenzi, Stephen Allen and Will Lidke in Griffin Theatre Company's production of Violet, directed by Scott Weinstein. Nicole Laurenzi, Stephen Allen and Will Lidke in Griffin Theatre Company's production of Violet, directed by Scott Weinstein. Michael Brosilow

I was blown away by how great the score, acting and singing were in Griffin Theatre’s new show, Violet. I didn’t have time to learn about it before opening night, so maybe I came away with a completely unbiased assessment: “Boffo!” as the trade rags say for this over the top, top-notch production.

As a recipe for a great musical, Violet can’t miss. It follows a 1964 pilgrimage of Violet (Nicole Laurenzi is excellent) from Spruce Pine, South Carolina to Memphis, where she hopes to be healed of a facial disfigurement in person by a TV Preacher. (Anthony Kayer is so good in this role!). With that geography, and the characters that board and depart the bus along the way, we have a setting that is rife with musical possibilities. And the show exploits them beautifully.

Violet taps deeply into country, gospel, bluegrass, honky tonk, and Memphis blues at towns along the way. As their vintage Greyhound bus breaks in Kingsport, Tennessee, Violet meets a pair of soldiers – Monty and Flick (Will Lidtke and Stephen Allen are terrific), enroute to Fort Smith, Arkansas. Violet has lived a sheltered life, and with her father gone, she is on a quest, and ready to meet the world for the first time.

An what a great score! What hidden talent has been lurking in Chicago, I wondered? Well, after the performance (90 minutes with no intermission) I was straightened out (duh!): this is a revival of a 2014 Broadway Tony-nominated production, itself a reboot of a 1997 Off-Broadway winner of the Drama Critic’s Circle for Best New Musical and an OBIE award for best music. Music is buy Jeanine Tesori, and book and lyrics are by Brian Crawley. 

Having great material to work with, the Griffin Theatre has a delivered a wonderful show. The story line and character development are unusually rich for a musical, and the cast measures right up. Matt W. Miles is a true standout as Violet’s father, with a rich voice and emotive performance. The Young Violet (Maya Lou Hlava) is a very good.

Director Scott Weinstein has navigated pretty well through a complex script, which taps flashbacks and memories. The somewhat spartan staging maximizes the Den Theatre’s intimate space, but it is probably challenging to convey the shifts in time and place – it works well overall.

The music by Jeanine Tesori (she also wrote Fun Home and Caroline, or Change) is loaded with harmonies and counterpoint. The band under John Cockerill is hidden behind a screen, but looms large rich sound, and is revealed when it plays the role of the house band for the Memphis church.

One quibble as a spectator: much of the plot revolves around Violet’s suffering with her disfigurement, a factor that has diminished her self-esteem. It is this emotional constraint that Violet sheds in the course of the play. But that moment of truth did not ring out on stage. And Violet’s makeup does not show a person disfigured – at least from the back row.

This blowout production of Violet is being done also to honor Griffin Theatre’s 30th Anniversary. What a great way to celebrate! Violet runs through January 13 at The Den Theatre

Last modified on Friday, 22 December 2017 16:38
Bill Esler

A native Chicagoan, Bill Esler has been a printer and publisher for more than 35 years. He has B.A. in English with a concentration in writing from Knox College.  

 

 

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