Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Theatre Works is presenting the Northern California premier of Jeanine Tesori and Brian Crawley's joyous musical journey Violet. The musical won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Musical of 1997. The charming musical beat out Titanic and The Life that year.
This is a powerful blues, folk and gospel tinged musical about a young woman on a odyssey through the South of 1964. Violet was accidentally disfigured at the precipice of puberty by her father. She goes on a quest to reach a TV evangelist who professes healing powers in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Violet takes a bus trip from her home in North Carolina to Tulsa and meets new friends en route. She befriends two soldiers, one a cocky white soldier boy named Monty, and the other a black sergeant named Flick who is headed for Ft Smith, Arkansas. Together this diverse trio explores their humanity amid the mayhem of 1960s social inequities. They ultimately discover a way to look past outward appearances and to start seeing with their hearts.
The music by Jeanine Tesori seamlessly blends the rhythms of blues, bluegrass and gospel music. There are some real toe tapping songs like "Luck of the Draw", "Raise Me Up" and "Let It Sing." The lyrics by Brian Crawley sound simple and poetic. The "Luck of the Draw" number really had my feet moving. Great beat . The last number, "Bring Me to Light," was a soul searching melody that raised to a crescendo of sound.
Theatre Works has a strong, superb cast headed by Keilli Maquire. She comes from Los Angeles via New York. She played the role of Katie in the off Broadway hit Swingtime Canteen and has done a lot of theatre in LA. She not only had a marvelous voice, but her acting was superb. The younger Violet was played by an amazing 14 year old actress, Chelsea Morgan Stock, who has a long list of theatre credits. She also has a great voice. The two soldiers were splendid in both acting and singing; Michael Gene Sullivan and Jonathan Rhys Williams gave strong performances.
The gospel scene was the high point of this musical. They really rocked the place and The Preacher played by Kevin Blackton was incredible. When he said "raise your hands for Jesus," I wanted to do so, as did rest of the audience.
Theatre Works have done themselves proud in presenting this wonderful musical to Northern California, and Robert Kelley should be congratulated for putting on a splendid production. It runs until November 14.