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Review Roundup: ‘Violet’

Violet, the revival of the 1997 musical by Brian Crawley (book and lyrics) and Jeanine Tesori (music), opened April 20 at the American Airlines Theater in a limited run as part of the Roundabout Theater Company’s 2013-14 season. Two-time Tony winner Sutton Foster (Thoroughly Modern Millie, Anything Goes) stars in the title role, a young woman disfigured by a childhood accident. In 1964, she journeys from her home in rural North Carolina to seek out a faith healer in Tulsa, Oklahoma whom she believes will eliminate her scar. Along the way she meets two young GIs—Monty, played by Colin Donnell (Anything Goes) and Flick, played by Josh Henry (The Scottsboro Boys)—who may change her life. Leigh Silverman (Chinglish) directs the production which is an expansion of her concert staging for the Encores! series last summer.

Critics cheered the Broadway debut of Violet, with many calling the intimate, modest musical a refreshing change from larger-scale efforts. “In a theater season littered with too many overproduced, underwhelming new musicals, this revival is a lovely minor-key surprise,” wrote David Rooney of The Hollywood Reporter. Sutton Foster reaped universal kudos with Steven Suskind of Huffington Post calling this her best performance to date. Silverman was also praised for her simple, evocative staging employing only a few set pieces to convey Violet’s long bus trip and spiritual journey. Here are some excerpts from the major reviews.

 

Annie Golden, Jeanine Tesori, Sutton Foster, Joshua Henry, Brian Crawley and Leigh Silverman during the opening night performance curtain call for 'Violet' (Photo: Walter McBride/WireImage)

Annie Golden, Jeanine Tesori, Sutton Foster, Joshua Henry, Brian Crawley and Leigh Silverman during the opening night performance curtain call for ‘Violet’ (Photo: Walter McBride/WireImage)

Charles Isherwood, New York Times
“Portraying a young woman from North Carolina desperately hoping an evangelist can pray away the deep scar on her face, Ms. Foster moves into thornier territory than she has occupied before in frothy musicals like Thoroughly Modern Millie, The Drowsy Chaperone, and the recent revival of Anything Goes. By the show’s conclusion, her familiar megawatt grin has been unfurled, but the journey to sunrise on this occasion allows Ms. Foster to reveal the full range of her expressive gifts as a musical theater performer.”

Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News
“Two-time Tony winner Foster brings grit and grace. Donnell nails the pretty boy who’s deeper than he appears. And Henry delivers one of the season’s most joyful jolts with the thrilling number ‘Let It Sing.’”

Elisabeth Vincentelli, New York Post
“Leigh Silverman’s lovely staging, which debuted at Encores! last summer, enlists and rewards our imagination: A few chairs evoke a bus, a single bed suggests a boarding house. The glorious cast—including a scene-stealing Annie Golden as both a hooker and a religious matron—does the rest.”

Mark Kennedy, Associated Press
Violet is a reminder—if we have already forgotten the power of Once—that a Broadway musical has to hit your heart as much as be visually pretty. A recent preview of Violet left some in the audience crying and smiling. And that’s with a show that has actors simply bumping up and down on chairs to recreate a bus trip.”

Linda Winer, Newsday
“In the middle of it all is Foster’s Violet, with lank hair and lanky limbs and a glorious voice that cuts through complicated emotions without ever belting. She embodies both Violet’s defensive armor and the childlike trust in a miracle that will give her ‘Gene Tierney’s eyes and Ava Gardner’s eyebrows.’”

Elysa Gardner, USA Today
“The leading lady, not surprisingly, meets the challenges posed by her role—which proves a nice showcase for the folkier, more nuanced quality Foster’s singing can take on when she’s not belting to the back rows. Not that you’ll have any problem hearing her here, or appreciating the courage and passion she brings to her latest star turn.”

Adam Feldman, Time Out New York
“It’s the darkest and richest role Foster has played, and she swings with marvelous speed from defensive prickliness to poignant hope.”

Marilyn Stasio, Variety
“With Idina, Hedwig, and Sally Bowles in town, is it possible for a modest musical heroine like Violet to survive on Broadway?  Let’s hope so, because helmer Leigh Silverman and collaborating creatives have done a lovely job of reviving this winsome 1997 musical by Brian Crawley (book & lyrics) and Jeanine Tesori (music).”

David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter
“Driven by a performance of incandescent yearning from Sutton Foster that’s all the more moving for its restraint, Violet is a delicate wildflower, craning toward the sun.”

Steven Suskin, Huffington Post
“Central to the project is two-time Tony Award winner Foster, giving the finest performance we’ve thus far seen from her as the vulnerable but strong, straight-talking heroine. …If Foster is exceptional in the title role, she is strongly supported by Henry, Donnell and especially the teen-aged [Emerson] Steele.”

Matt Windman, AM NewYork
“Everything about Violet is extraordinary, from its captivating, character-driven storytelling and pulsating country-rock score to the focused direction from Leigh Silverman and pitch-perfect casting.”

 

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