As always when I’m in New York I like to take in a Broadway show. This time I was excited to see Violet. Technically I saw it in it’s last night of previews. When I decided I wanted to see the show and looked at the dates I realized it would still be in previews the next time I was in New York, but given that it opened the next night I didn’t figure a lot if anything was going to change between when I saw it and when it officially opened. So bear that in mind just in case, you know, they completely overhauled the entire thing in the 24 hours between when I saw it and when it opened.
This production of Violet is a sort of revival of an off-Broadway production from 1997 that never managed to make it to Broadway. It was originally revived as a one night Encores! show back in the summer, and ultimately spun up to a full-fledged run from April 20-August 10. The show stars Sutton Foster as the titular Violet, who was badly scarred across her face when her father accidentally hit her with an axe blade at the age of 13. Now 12 years later she is traveling from her small town in North Carolina to Tulsa to meet a televangelist she believes can take away her scar. Along the way she meets two military men going to their station in Arkansas before possibly shipping out to Vietnam (the show is set in 1964), who she befriends and who start to make her see her life differently.
If you’ve read anything about the show you’ve probably seen that Sutton Foster goes completely make-up free during the show. They decided to let the audience use their imagination regarding her scar, and it did work for me. Foster does a good job of portraying someone who is trying to hide a large scar across her face, and the rest of the cast members recoil when they first meet her and see her face.
I saw this show referred to in a couple of places as a bluegrass musical. There are definitely some bluegrass and country influences in some of the songs as well as a strong gospel influence, but overall the music still sounds like it came from musical theatre. I liked it a lot though, and will probably pick up the cast recording once they actually record it.
The show is fairly minimalist for a Broadway musical. The musicians are set up on a riser on the back of the stage, and the rest of the set is a fairly low-key bus station set. There isn’t really anything in the way of dancing, but there is some interesting choreography throughout. It sort of reminded me of Once in that way. As with that show I thought the whole thing was very lovely even though it’s not a giant production.
The role of Violet is definitely a departure for Sutton Foster, who has in the past played much more lively roles that include a lot of song and dance. Not that I had any doubts, but she handled a much more subdued character wonderfully. The show-stopping applause however went to Joshua Henry, who plays one of the soldier named Flick, for the performance of “Let It Sing”. I read the same thing in the New York Times review of the show, so I’m guessing that will be a nightly thing as well it should be because he was amazing. I was also suitably impressed with the 14-year old Emerson Steele, who plays the younger version of Violet. That young lady has quite a career on Broadway ahead of her I expect.
It wasn’t really going to take much for me to like this show. I love Sutton Foster, and I hunger for Broadway shows that are neither based on a movie or music previously in existence. Those are sadly few and far between these days. I adored everything about the show, and I don’t think it’s just because it was something I was completely in the bag for from the start because the reviews I’m seeing from last night’s opening night are equally as positive. If you’re in New York before August and are looking for a show to see I would highly recommend Violet.