Thursday, March 16, 2017

Ugly is Sin: Violet's a Rare, Richly American Musical Fable

Posted By on Thu, Mar 16, 2017 at 3:58 PM

click to enlarge 16938520_10155006482275996_1005877378953004554_n.jpg
America's a great big melting pot of bigotry and bias, but I swear, the worst thing you can possibly be in Barbie and Ken's Dream Meritocracy is ugly. Okay, I take that back, being poor and ugly's worse. Violet's white, anyhow, and her daddy loved her and taught her how to win at poker. She's got that much going for her, at least, when she gets on a bus rolling from North Carolina to Tulsa. A faith healer there is going to take her terrible scar away and, for her suffering, bestow upon the disfigured woman, some reasonably just measure of divine movie star hotness.

Violet's the best Tony-nominated musical nobody's ever heard of. Based on Doris Betts' short story The Ugliest Pilgrim and buoyed by a collage of authentic Americana sounds, it tells the story of a hardened young woman who's pinned her hopes and dreams on a miracle. It's a road trip story prominently featuring one hot, transformative night in Memphis. In a short-feeling 90 minutes, Violet takes on big ideas about race, class, beauty, and faith with none of the usual "put it on Jesus" cliches.

Germantown Community Theatre's production  boasts some extraordinary voices and some not-so-extraordinary voices, but it's all honesty and heart. Nichol Pritchard's Violet is someone everybody knows. As the young woman scarred for life when the head of her father's axe flew off its handle, her's is a standout performance in a show full of stand out performances. Her's stands out for its simplicity— the ease with which Pritchard wears Violet's troubles, and flinty determination. She's no starry-eyed, believer, this is a woman at the crossroads of exhaustion and obsession, seeing heavenly visions, like a patron saint of homely travelers.
Violet's also a buddy story, and an uncommonly effective romance. Along the way to Tulsa she meets a pair of soldier boys, one white and one black, and they connect in unexpected ways. A prickly, game of cat and mouse ends with a figurative stumble down Beale St. where things only get more complicated. All the while we're reminded that skin's a calling card, and not all doors are open to everybody.

As noted above, not every note sung in GCT's Violet is perfect. In fact a few are, while  joyous enough, still pretty sour. Some cringes may occur, but these aren't deal-breakers in a show otherwise packed with heavenly voices. In context— after initial, considerable shock— the worst is almost charming.

Violet composer Jeanine Tesori (Fun Home, Caroline, or Change) dove deep into American roots music and delivered an unpretentious country-, blues-, and bluegrass-laden score, where Bo Diddley beats meet big Broadway ballads.
click to enlarge Before the accident, when everything was possible. - JOEY ECHEVERIA PHOTOGRAPHY AND GCT
  • Joey Echeveria Photography and GCT
  • Before the accident, when everything was possible.

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