Thursday, March 9, 2017

Honey in the Bushes: Take the Pilgrimage to Germantown for "Violet"

Posted By on Thu, Mar 9, 2017 at 6:22 PM

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Violet's a Tony nominated musical's nobody's ever heard of. That's not true, of course. It's even been done in Memphis before. Once. But somehow this wonderful piece of theater lacks the name recognition it deserves. Whenever I bring it up people ask, "What?" "Who?"

Not only is Violet  a personal favorite, it promises to be the most excellent fit for a narrative musical at Germantown Community Theatre since the company staged Spitfire Grill, a few seasons back. I mention the latter, because both shows are steeped in Americana and truck in sonic, and emotional authenticity. But Violet takes more risks, and yields more rewards.

Based on the  short story The Ugliest Pilgrim by Beasts of the Southern Wild author Doris Betts, Violet tells the story of Violet Karl, a wounded young woman on a pilgrimage to Tulsa, OK to meet with a televangelist and faith healer.  Her face was disfigured when she was very young. The head flew off her father's axe while he was chopping wood and...  it was awful. It's continued to be awful. This leap of faith is her last shot.

For Violet, Jeanine Tesori (Fun Home, Caroline or Change), dove deep into American roots music and delivered an unpretentious Country, R&B, Swing, Blues, and bluegrass-laden score, where Bo Diddly beats meet big Broadway ballads.

To be honest, I have a hard time listening to the soundtrack. Cringeworthy southern accents undermine Tesori's good work, and the mix errs on the side of cheese. Still, you can hear all the things that set Violet apart.

Great story. Sensitive adaptation. Worth knowing.


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