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 disfigurement 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 Violet’s quest.

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 disfigurement.

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 harmonies.

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, identity and self-acceptance.

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

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