Kate Herbert is theatre reviewer, Herald Sun, Melbourne & formerly for Melbourne Times. Kate is a director & produced playwright (20 plays). Scripts published by Currency Press. She worked as an actor, comedian, improviser & teacher of Acting, Improvisation & Playwriting. Kate is currently Convenor of Professional Writing & Editing, Swinburne University. Read her reviews here or at: www.heraldsun.com.au/entertainment/arts. NB Explorer Browser doesn't always work on blog.
Monday, 7 March 2016
Violet, March 5, 2016 ****
Music by Jeanine
Tesori, book and lyrics by Brian Crawley, based on The Ugliest Pilgrim by Doris
Betts, by Blue Saint Productions Chapel
off Chapel, until March 20, 2016 Reviewer: Kate Herbert Stars: ****
Samantha Dodemaide & cast. Photographer: Ben Fon
It is 1964 and
an American televangelist and sham faith healer dupes a naive, young woman into
believing that he can heal her horribly scarred face.
From the age of 15, the titular Violet (Samantha Dodemaide) suffers not only the facial
caused by an axe blade but also the accompanying bullying and ridicule of people
in her small and bigoted North Carolina town.
In this spirited musical, the unsophisticated Violet embarks
on a road trip to the Oklahoma chapel – really a TV studio – of the television Preacher
(Jordan Pollard), seeking healing, a new face and a new sense of identity.
The talented ensemble, under Mitchell Butel’s assured and witty direction
with playful choreography by Amy Campbell and evocative design (set by Simon Greer,
lighting by Ross Graham), captures both the absurdity and tragedy of
The tight, six-piece band under Martine Wengrow’s accomplished
musical direction, delivers a musical feast (music by
Jeanine Tesori) that ranges from bluegrass and country tunes to gospel
and soul numbers.
Dodemaide embodies Violet’s
fragility and her feistiness and, through her impassioned performance, makes us
‘see’ Violet’s scarred face although the actor displays no actual facial
In Brian Crawley’s libretto (based on The
Ugliest Pilgrim by Doris Betts), Violet is the pivot of the narrative and Dodemaide
sings the role with commitment, passion and pain.
As Young Violet, Luisa Scrofani brings another
layer to Violet’s character, providing both her childhood backstory and vocal
Steve Danielsen plays the charming,
good-looking soldier, Monty, and his rendition of Last Time I Came to Memphis
is a sassy, testosterone-fuelled anthem.
As Flick, Monty’s pal and rival for
Violet’s affections, Barry Conrad is warm and magnetic with a bright timbre to
his voice in his solo, Let It Sing.
Other actors play a parade
of eccentrics on Violet’s bus trip to healing, highlights being Deidre
Rubenstein’s hilariously raddled streetwalker and Damien
Bermingham’s moving, rich-voiced portrayal of Violet’s guilt-ridden father.
Cherine Peck’s gospel singing Lula is thrilling in the happy-clappy evangelists’
healing song, Raise Me Up, and the five-part harmonies in the poker-playing
scene are exhilarating.
All of these characters
contribute to Violet’s learning in this morality tale about personal growth,
Violet is a stylish and vivacious production that is
sure to entertain the cynics and the faithful alike.
By Kate Herbert
Samantha Dodemaide & Luisa Scrofani. Photographer: Ben Fon
Steve Danielsen & Samantha Dodemaide. Photographer: Ben Fon