One of my theater practices is that I do not read reviews of a show once I’ve decided to go see it. I don’t want my experience to be tainted by other people’s opinions and expectations. When I saw the ads for the Ford’s Theatre production of Violet, a show which I knew to be opening on Broadway this spring, I naturally assumed that this must be their out of town tryout. I was excited and decided I would see the show early in its previews and the again on Broadway to see how the show had changed and how the performances had developed so I could compare and contrast because…that’s the kind of geek that I am.
I show up Friday night pretty excited to see the show and I’m immediately puzzled as I peruse the playbill. Isn’t Sutton Foster supposed to be in this? Hadn’t I read Sutton Foster was playing the lead? Does Ms. Foster not do out of town previews? As I continue to read the playbill I recognize as significant number of actors that are DC regional theater regulars. Well it turns out that this is not the Broadway bound production of Violet, starring Sutton Foster, but a regional production of Violet with a well-known and talented cast of regional actors.
Now that that confusion has been cleared up, back to the show.
Violet is a rarely performed musical that had a brief but critically praised off-Broadway run 17 years ago yet never made the transition to Broadway. Based on a short story, “The Ugliest Pilgrim” by Doris Betts (you know her better for “Beasts of the Southern Wild” which was recently made into a movie) and set in the mid ‘60’s it’s the story of a young woman whose face was badly scarred by an ax when she was a teenager and a fateful bus trip she takes from her home in North Carolina to Tulsa Oklahoma where she hopes to be healed by an televangelist faith healer. The story flashes back and forth from the current time to her childhood and her life with her father. Along the way she meets a variety of characters and befriends two soldiers who help her find her way more than any televangelist could.
Having seen this show, I’m excited to see the Broadway production. Not that this show is not entirely entertaining but I’ve read that the original writers of the show, music by Jeanine Tesori and libretto by Brian Crawley, are tweaking and reworking their original work for its Broadway debut so I’m very curious to see what changes they’ve made. I’ve read they are turning it into a one act show, which I can appreciate, sometime you just don’t want to interrupt the flow of the narrative. I also really enjoyed the music, it has a little more country/rockabilly/gospel vibe to it that is different from traditional show tunes or the more modern rock operas we’ve been seeing lately.
It is unfortunate for Erin Driscoll, our Violet, that for the entire performance I kept imagining Sutton Foster in the role (who I can see being incredibly well suited to the part). I am a fan of Ms. Driscoll and think she’s a wonderful performer but it seemed like she was holding back vocally in places where she should have aiming for the rafters. Kevin McAllister as the soldier Flick, steals the show and whatever actor is playing the part on Broadway will have to be something special to outshine Mr. McAllister’s performance. He fully embodies his character and his performance of “Let it Sing” will be very hard to beat. It’s worth going to the show just for his performance. Bobby Smith as Violet’s father was also excellent and I really enjoyed Gregory Maheu as the televangelist, he gave the character depth and actually made you feel a little bit sorry for him. I liked the actress playing the daughter, but kept getting a weird Amy Poehler vibe off of her, don’t ask me why.
As a final note, be careful in selecting your seats. As an older theater there are columns holding up the balcony and they do create a pretty good obstruction. I would say a good 1/3 of the rear orchestra seats are obstructed view but the Ford’s seating chart only show a handful of seats as obstructed view. Technically my seat was not considered obstructed view but there were times I couldn’t see the actors on the stage. Nothing, perhaps not even the most chatty of seats mates, annoys me more that theaters selling obstructed view seats at full ticket prices! I’ve paid to see the whole show not 9/10th of it, as there seemed to be ample seats available I re-seated my self during intermission. Their ticketing system does allow you to pick your seats so be wary the column. The show runs through 2/24 you can get tickets here.