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 is expected to open on Broadway at the American Airlines Theatre in a Roundabout Theatre Company production in April 2014, with Sutton Foster starring as "Violet". The production will be directed by Leigh Silverman and musically directed by Micheal Rafter with choreography by Jeffrey Page, sets by David Zinn, costumes by Clint Ramos and lights by Mark Barton.
- Act I
Violet Karl's 13 year-old self sings ("Water in the Well") while her father is chopping wood. The shim of his axe blade suddenly comes loose and hits his daughter across the face, leaving a deep gash which runs from her nose all the way down her left cheek.
The 25 year old Violet, terribly scarred from her injury, is at a Greyhound bus station, boarding the bus ("Surprised"). Her destination is a televangelist in Tulsa, Oklahoma that she has been watching on television for years. Being a strong believer in God, she believes that the televangelist will be able to make a direct connection from her to God and make her scar disappear. On the bus, she meets an old woman who is heading to Nashville, Tennessee to visit her son, "who works in the cellophane plant". Violet eyes the woman's pale unblemished skin with envy and thinks about the things that she would like to ask the televangelist to change about herself ("On My Way").
While the bus makes a stop ("M&Ms"), Violet meets two soldiers: the attractive, womanizing Monty, and Flick, who is African-American. In 1964, during the Civil Rights Movement, Flick is often discriminated against during the journey. Violet sits down with them and they play five card draw. Simultaneously, a flashback shows Young Violet carrying groceries into the house. Her father is upset with her because she is short on change. "That's the third time this month you've let them shortchange you at the store! I thought they was supposed to learn you 'rithmetic in school." In attempt to teach her how to add and subtract, he teaches her how to play poker ("Luck of the Draw").
Violet and the soldiers decide to travel with each other until they have to go their separate ways. At a bus stop in Memphis, Violet plans to spend the night with some relatives she barely knows. "I have their number in my suitcase," she claims. Unfortunately, her suitcase is stolen by some mechanics, so Flick suggests that she spend the night at an old friend's small hotel. Violet, originally reluctant to the idea, decides that this is the best idea. After settling into their room, they go to a dance hall for a night on the town ("Lonely Stranger").
After they party, Violet is asleep in her hotel room. Monty comes in from his room and slips into her bed. A flashback shows Violet walking home from school, followed by Billy Dean Ellum. Billy Dean claims that he's never done "it" with a girl before. Back in the hotel, Monty falls asleep in Violet's lap and Violet sings to him ("Lay Down Your Head").
- Act II
Back on the bus, Monty and Flick are preparing to say goodbye to Violet, as the next stop is hers ("Promise Me, Violet"). Violet departs the bus and enters the chapel where a rehearsal is being held for the next episode of the televangelist's show ("Raise Me Up"). Violet interrupts and asks the televangelist to help her. The televangelist admits he can't fulfill her request, explaining the people he "heals" are so caught up in the excitement of his program, that they end up healing themselves. Violet, feeling confused and betrayed, turns viciously upon him, mocking him with his own routine ("Raise Me Up" - Reprise).
She goes into a trance, imagining that she is having a conversation with her late father, begging him to confront his handiwork ("Look at Me"). He explains that he tried his hardest to be a good father, and assures her he never wanted to hurt her ("That's What I Could Do"). She comes out of her "trance" emotionally purged and, thinking she has been healed just as she had hoped ("Surprised" - Reprise), she gets on the next bus to where Monty and Flick are stationed ("M&Ms" - Reprise).
She meets Monty and quickly realizes that she still has the scar running across her face. She is crushed, but Flick comforts her, showing her how much both of them have changed ("Promise Me, Violet" - Reprise). Monty leaves to fight in Vietnam while Flick and Violet start a new life together ("Bring Me to Light").
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."
In his review in The New York Times, Ben Brantley wrote that the musical "raised the topicality quotient...and reconfigured its sources 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.
Awards and nominations
- "'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
- "Ken Mandelbaum's MUSICALS ON DISC: 'Violet', 'Triumph' & Judy Preserved" playbill.com, October 11, 1998
- Brantley, Ben. "Lessons About Life In a Quest for Beauty", The New York Times, March 12, 1997, p. C12
- Drama Desk Awards2006 - Winners 2001 dramadesk.com
- Lortel listing
- Violet at the Music Theatre International website
- Fan site with lyrics, synopsis, history, and more.