Review: The Actors Co-op production of ‘Violet’ might make you believe in miracles
Like its title character, the small-scale musical “Violet” wishes merely to be seen, whole and true.
Set in September 1964, the story follows Violet — in her late 20s, her face disfigured by a childhood accident — as she travels across the South looking for a miracle.
Introduced off-Broadway in 1997 and presented in revised form on Broadway in 2014, the show remains little-known yet tends to make fans of those who encounter it. An invigorating production at Actors Co-op in Hollywood is bound to add to those numbers.
Jeanine Tesori’s music is particularly hard to resist. This was her first score, since followed by the transcendent “Caroline, or Change” and “Fun Home,” among others.
She can write in most any genre, as is evident in the compendium of musical-theater styles she devised for “Soft Power,” playwright David Henry Hwang’s fever dream now at the Ahmanson Theatre. In “Violet” she uses mountain roots music, blues, gospel, country and radio pop to convey hope, faith and a sense of adventure.
Violet’s disfigurement is not indicated with makeup, but merely through description, as well as people’s reactions to her. Propelled by deep, Christian belief and a fierce desire to be whole, she travels by bus from North Carolina’s mountains to Tulsa, Okla., in search of a faith-healing evangelist she’s seen on TV. The script and lyrics by Brian Crawley — based on “The Ugliest Pilgrim,” a 1973 short story by North Carolina author Doris Betts — keep a folk-tale-like story grounded in reality.
The audience travels along as if tucked inside Violet’s brain, where the present mingles with memories and dreams. She is shadowed by her younger self, unblemished in spirit. Her late father, good-humored and nurturing, is never far away, either. Richard Israel’s crisp, fluid staging never leaves us in doubt about where we are in the timeline.
Bus-shaped windows are mounted on two of the theater’s walls, enhancing the feeling that the audience is along for the ride. The vehicle’s interior is assembled from vinyl-covered bench seats that are rolled into rows. (Nicholas Acciani designed the set, Martha Carter the evocative lighting.)
Claire Adams’ Violet is gloomy in the small town where people have always turned their heads and managed to say the wrong things. But as she travels farther from home and meets new people, her spirit lightens and her inquisitiveness broadens. After a poker game acquaints her with a pair of soldiers, a teasing playfulness also emerges.
Monty, portrayed by Morgan West, is white, rambunctious and a bit of a Lothario. Flick, played by Jahmaul Bakare, is black, observant and intuitive. The world doesn’t see beyond their appearances, either, which bonds them with Violet.
Adams’ dusky soprano fills with emotion as the journey progresses, her voice beautifully paired with that of Lily Zager as Violet’s chipper younger self. Bakare’s high baritone, infused with gospel power, raises the roof.
Other standouts in the terrifically talented cast of 12 include John Allsopp as Violet’s father, Lori Berg as a chatty passenger and Kevin Shewey as the grandstanding preacher.
Music director Taylor Stephenson conducts a sharp ensemble of five other musicians from the keyboard.
Delicate as a prayer, “Violet” reveals a place where miracles occur — the world as we’d like to see it, where we all are seen for who we are.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Where: Actors Co-op at First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood, 1760 N. Gower St.
When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays and May 26; ends June 17
Info: (323) 462-8460, www.ActorsCo-op.org
Running time: 2 hours
The complete guide to home viewing
Get Screen Gab for weekly recommendations, analysis, interviews and irreverent discussion of the TV and streaming movies everyone’s talking about.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.