Original Cast Recording
|Basis||Doris Betts's The Ugliest Pilgrim|
Violet is a musical with music by Jeanine Tesori and libretto by Brian Crawley based on the short story "The Ugliest Pilgrim" by Doris Betts. It tells the story of a young disfigured woman who embarks on a journey by bus from her farm in Spruce Pine, North Carolina, all the way to Tulsa, Oklahoma in order to be healed. The musical premiered Off-Broadway in 1997 and won the Drama Critics' Circle Award and Lucille Lortel Award as Best Musical.
Violet was developed at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center's National Music Theater Conference in 1994. It premiered Off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons on March 11, 1997, and closed on April 6, 1997. Directed by Susan H. Schulman with choreography by Kathleen Marshall, the cast featured Lauren Ward as Violet, Michael McElroy as Flick and Michael Park as Monty. Other cast members included Stephen Lee Anderson, Amanda Posner and Robert Westenberg. It won the Drama Critics' Circle Award and Lucille Lortel Award as Best Musical. In January 2003, a reunion concert was held at Playwrights Horizons, at which members of the original cast performed.
The Encores! Off-Center Series held a one-night production at the New York City Center on July 17, 2013. Sutton Foster played Violet with Joshua Henry as Flick. Other cast members included Van Hughes, Austin Lesch, Anastacia McCleskey, Keala Settle, Christopher Sieber, Emerson Steele, Chris Sullivan, Rema Webb, and Paul Whitty.
Violet opened on Broadway at the American Airlines Theatre in a Roundabout Theatre Company production on March 28, 2014 (previews) and on April 20, 2014 officially, with Sutton Foster starring as "Violet". The production is directed by Leigh Silverman, with musical direction by Micheal Rafter, choreography by Jeffrey Page, sets by David Zinn, costumes by Clint Ramos and lights by Mark Barton. The musical has been revised and will be played in one act, as was done at the Encores! July 2013 staged concert.
With a ticket, a suitcase, and a heart full of expectation, Violet Karl waits for a Greyhound bus in Spruce Pine, North Carolina . It is September 4, 1964. For a moment she sees herself as a young girl (Young Vi), carefree and singing a folk song (“Water in the Well”), before her face was horribly disfigured in an accident. A local’s nosy question breaks Violet’s reverie, prompting her to look forward to the healing she expects to receive from a televangelist in Tulsa that will help her transcend her provincial little town (“Surprised”). As the bus departs the station, the passengers muse as to where this journey might lead them (“On My Way”).
The passengers pile off the bus to get some food at a rest stop in Kingsport, Tennessee (“M&M’s”). In the grill Violet meets two poker-playing soldiers, Flick and Monty. Flick is a black sergeant in his early thirties, Monty a younger white corporal, a paratrooper. Both are bound for Fort Smith, Arkansas. Violet asks to join their game, and as they deal her in, she privately recalls how her father taught her to play (“Luck of the Draw”).
Back on the bus, Monty teases Violet about a preacher he obviously has no faith in (“Question ’n’ Answer”). He takes a book she carries and plays keep-away with it, which triggers Violet’s memory of the day she found the catechism in her father’s bedside table. Later, in the Nashville station, Flick wants to know exactly what it is that Violet wants to change. With the help of movie magazines she shows the soldiers the physical features she’d like best (“All to Pieces”), but they offend her when their attention wanders. She sits apart from them as the journey continues, recalling once again her younger self singing the folk song, which turns out to have been the moment just before the accident (“Water in the Well [Reprise]”). Violet daydreams an encounter between herself as Young Vi and the Preacher (“A Healing Touch”). As they are approaching Memphis, Flick seeks Violet out to apologize for offending her earlier. He suggests she can take care of herself without the help of the Preacher (“Let It Sing”). Stopping in Memphis overnight, the trio pass a hooker on the way to a boarding house, where Almeta the landlady resists housing a white woman until Flick slips her some money (“Anyone Would Do”). While a song plays on the radio (“Who’ll Be the One [If Not Me]”), Violet dozes, seeing herself as Young Vi trying to dance with her father, then practicing dancing with the old lady from the bus. Monty appears and dances with both women in turn. Monty really has entered Violet’s room. He finds her book and starts to read things Violet has written in it. She awakes and confronts him, prompting Monty to explain himself (“Last Time I Came to Memphis”).
Flick enters the room with some drinks to start the night off (“Go to It”). The threesome venture out to a Beale Street music hall, where the sight of Flick dancing with Violet attracts some unfriendly attention (“Lonely Stranger”). When Monty moves in and makes a pass at Violet, Flick leaves the hall. Violet follows him back to the boarding house; the landlady interrupts a tender moment between them. In the middle of the night, Monty stumbles in through Violet’s unlocked door. He wakes her, makes love to her, then falls asleep in her lap (“Lay Down Your Head”).
The music hall singer, the landlady and the hooker cap the evening with a trio about unfulfilled desire (“Anyone Would Do [Reprise]”). Violet travels with the men to Fort Smith the next morning, on her way to Tulsa . Flick and Violet pledge to write each other, but Flick gets upset about the events of the night before (“Hard to Say Goodbye”). Violet escapes to the bus bathroom, where she rehearses what she will say to spurn Monty, afraid he’ll otherwise reject her first. In the front of the bus Monty rehearses his own spiel, at Flick’s direction. But when it comes time to part, Monty instead asks Violet to meet him on her return stop at Fort Smith (“Promise Me, Violet”). She promises nothing, cleaving to her plan, and the bus pulls away .
In Tulsa, Violet surprises the Preacher in rehearsal with his choir (“Raise Me Up”). He pawns her off on Virgil, a young assistant, and in her frustration she recovers the memory of being carried in her father’s arms after the accident (“Down the Mountain”). Soon she slips away from Virgil and returns to the televangelist’s empty chapel. Violet takes out her catechism and empties slips of paper she has covered with Bible quotes onto the altar (“In the Chapel”). When the Preacher discovers her, she pleads with him to help invoke her miracle (“Raise Me Up [Reprise]”). When nothing comes of this desperate attempt, she demands he see her for what she is: scarred and hideous, a prodigy of pain (“Look at Me”). She looks to the heavens for a moment; the Preacher is replaced by her father. They fight, until he apologizes for what he has done (“That’s What I Could Do”). Aware that something about herself has changed, Violet assumes it is her scar; she rebounds the bus, convinced she has had a miracle (“Surprised [Reprise]”).
When she gets out at the Fort Smith station, Monty is there waiting. His efforts at sympathy make plain to her that her face has not changed at all. Crushed, she rejects Monty’s invitation to marry him before he ships out to Vietnam. Flick is also at the station and recognizes that Violet has changed, though her scar has not. He entreats her to stay with him (“Promise Me, Violet [Reprise]”). At first she refuses, but her younger self appears and stops Violet from rejecting what she wants most. Violet’s healing is complete when she takes Flick’s hand and commits to a new life with him (“Bring Me to Light”).
Note: Below are the principal casts of all official major productions of the musical.
|Role||Off-Broadway Cast||Encores! Off-Center Series||Original Broadway Cast|
|Violet||Lauren Ward||Sutton Foster|
|Monty||Michael Park||Van Hughes||Colin Donnell|
|Flick||Michael McElroy||Joshua Henry|
|Father||Stephen Lee Anderson||Chris Sullivan||Alexander Gemignani|
|Young Violet||Amanda Posner||Emerson Steele|
|Preacher/Bus Driver 1/Radio Singer/Bus Driver 4||Robert Westenberg||Christopher Sieber||Ben Davis|
|Old Lady/Hotel Hooker||Cass Morgan||Keala Settle||Annie Golden|
The original cast recording was released in 1998. Ken Mandelbaum wrote, in reviewing the recording:
"'Violet'...is a reasonably accomplished piece of work; I only wish it were more entertaining. Not that Violet doesn't have fine things in it: There's a rousing opening sequence ("Surprised"/"On My Way"); the stirring "Let It Sing" for one of the two men who change Violet's life; a pretty lullaby for Violet called "Lay Down Your Head"; the attractive "Promise Me, Violet"; and the "Bring Me To Light" finale. But the piece also seems to me somewhat overwritten, and ultimately not as affecting as it was meant to be."
Cast members of the 2014 Broadway revival began a new cast recording by PS Classics on April 7, 2014. The cast album was released on June 3.
|US Billboard 200||197|
|US Cast Albums (Billboard)||3|
|US Independent Albums (Billboard)||36|
In his review in The New York Times, Ben Brantley wrote that the musical "raised the topicality quotient...and reconfigured its source's love story to put direct emphasis on parallels between Violet and Flick, who as a black man in the southern United States knows what it's like to be judged by your skin.... 'Violet' integrates a number of styles, from gospel and bluegrass to Memphis blues.... Ms. Tesori has a fine hand for harmonies and counterpoint.... What the show fails to do is to provide any compelling sense of character.
The Broadway version opened to unanimously excellent reviews. Charles Isherwood described it as "an enduringly rewarding musical. With its tangy flavors of country, gospel, blues and honky-tonk rock, it is also her warmest, most accessible score . . . the time has come for Sutton Foster to take her place among the first rank of Broadway's musical theatre performers."
Awards and nominations
|1997||Drama Desk Award||Outstanding Musical||Nominated|
|Outstanding Lyrics||Brian Crawley||Nominated|
|Outstanding Music||Jeanine Tesori||Nominated|
|Outstanding Orchestrations||Joseph Joubert and Buryl Red||Nominated|
|Outstanding Director of a Musical||Susan H. Shulman||Nominated|
|Outstanding Actress in a Musical||Lauren Ward||Nominated|
|Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical||Michael McElroy||Nominated|
|Outer Critics Circle Award||Outstanding Off-Broadway Musical||Nominated|
|Drama Critics' Circle Award||Best Musical||Won|
|Lucille Lortel Award||Outstanding Musical||Won|
|Obie Award||Special Citation (music)||Jeanine Tesori||Won|
|2014||Tony Award||Best Revival of a Musical||Nominated|
|Best Actress in a Musical||Sutton Foster||Nominated|
|Best Featured Actor in a Musical||Joshua Henry||Nominated|
|Best Direction of a Musical||Leigh Silverman||Nominated|
|Drama Desk Award||Outstanding Revival of a Musical||Nominated|
|Outstanding Actress in a Musical||Sutton Foster||Nominated|
|Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical||Joshua Henry||Nominated|
|Outer Critics Circle Award||Outstanding Revival of a Musical (Broadway or Off-Broadway)||Nominated|
|Outstanding Actress in a Musical||Sutton Foster||Nominated|
|Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical||Joshua Henry||Nominated|
- "'Violet' Listing" playwrightshorizons.org, accessed August 9, 2013
- Heineman, Eva. "Review" Curtain Up, accessed August 9, 2013
- Jones, Kenneth. "On Her Way: Tesori & Crawley Musical, 'Violet', Gets NYC Reunion Concert Jan. 16-19" playbill.com, January 16, 2003
- Gans, Andrew. Sutton Foster, Joshua Henry, Van Hughes, Keala Settle, Christopher Sieber Star in One-Night-Only 'Violet' July 17" playbill.com, July 17, 2013
- Purcell, Carey. "'Violet', Starring Tony Winner Sutton Foster, Will Play Broadway in March 2014" playbill.com, November 25, 2013
- Purcell, Carey. " 'Violet' Gets Cut: Retooled, One-Act Adaptation of Musical, Starring Sutton Foster, Will Play Broadway" playbill.com, December 20, 2013
- Digital Booklet 0 Violet (Original Broadway Cast Recording)
- "Ken Mandelbaum's MUSICALS ON DISC: 'Violet', 'Triumph' & Judy Preserved" playbill.com, October 11, 1998
- Blank, Matthew."PHOTO CALL: Sutton Foster and the Company of 'Violet' Head Into the Recording Studio" playbill.com, April 8, 2014
- Illegal name entered Original Broadway Cast Recording/Original+Broadway+Cast+Recording/chart?f=305 "Original Broadway Cast Recording Album & Song Chart History" Billboard 200 for Original Broadway Cast Recording. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved 18 June 2014.
- "Cast Albums". Billboard. Retrieved 18 June 2014.
- "Illegal name entered Original Broadway Cast Recording/Original+Broadway+Cast+Recording/chart?f=326 Original Broadway Cast Recording Album & Song Chart History" Billboard Independent Albums for Original Broadway Cast Recording. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved 18 June 2014.
- Brantley, Ben. "Lessons About Life In a Quest for Beauty", The New York Times, March 12, 1997, p. C12
- Isherwood, Charles. "Review/Theater; Longing For a Facial Scar to Simply Vanish"The New York Times, from New York Times on the Web, April 22, 2014
- Drama Desk Awards2006 - Winners 2001 dramadesk.com
- Gans, Andrew. "68th Annual Tony Awards Nominations Announced; 'Gentleman's Guide' Leads the Pack" playbill.com, April 29, 2014
- Gans, Andrew. "2014 Annual Drama Desk Awards Nominations Announced; 'Gentleman's Guide' Earns 12 Nominations" playbill.com, April 25, 2014
- "Outer Critics Circle 2013-14 Season" outercritics.org, May 12, 2014
- Lortel listing
- Violet at the Music Theatre International website
- Fan site with lyrics, synopsis, history, and more.