`Violet' sparks thought with story about 1960s

Journey through South occurs as changes loom

Posted 1/24/16

In image-conscious September 1964, a young woman named Violet Karl (Ellen Kaye) leaves her home in Spruce Pine, North Carolina, on a bus headed for Tulsa, Oklahoma, where there is an evangelist/healer she believes will heal the scar on her face, …

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`Violet' sparks thought with story about 1960s

Journey through South occurs as changes loom

Posted

In image-conscious September 1964, a young woman named Violet Karl (Ellen Kaye) leaves her home in Spruce Pine, North Carolina, on a bus headed for Tulsa, Oklahoma, where there is an evangelist/healer she believes will heal the scar on her face, disfigured in an accident.

“Her journey takes her across the American South during the cultural revolution of the 1960s. This is before civil rights, Vietnam, women's liberation and the British Invasion reshaped our society,” wrote director Nick Sugar in his notes for “Violet” at Littleton's Town Hall Arts Center.

“On July 2, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, prohibiting discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and outlawed segregation in public places. This was deeply unpopular in the South, where Violet was traveling, and its enforcement was challenged and racism remained … It's not about the destination, but the journey that transforms us.”

The set is a bus terminal, designed by Tina Anderson to serve as several places on Violet's travels, with assorted chairs to the front suggesting a cross-country bus. She makes new friends and learns about what it means to be an outsider

“Violet” was written by Jeanine Tesori (music and lyrics) and Brian Crawley (book), based on a story, “The Ugliest Pilgrim,” by Doris Betts. It's a smaller-scale musical with a message, filled with upbeat country, gospel and honky-tonk tunes and a compelling story.

Among those Violet meets on the bus are a couple of young soldiers en route to Fort Smith, Arkansas. Monty (Chas Lederer) and the more reserved Flick (Randy Chalmers), who is black, take her out for boozy evening in Memphis en route, after she beats them at poker.

A charming scene has young Violet (Rebecca Hyde) learning to play poker from her dad (Scott McLean) on one side of the stage, while adult Violet is quietly beating the puzzled soldiers on the other side. Dad and young Vi appear in a number of flashbacks that effectively add another layer to the story.

Throughout, a country band, led by Donna Debreceni, plays the lively, pleasing score, set to the side of the stage. It is a really nice addition to this production. Voices are strong and the melodies are fun to hear.

There is a big gospel number, “Raise Me Up,” in Tulsa as the preacher (Zach Stalley) sings with his converts, including Lula Buffington (the remarkable Anna High), and there's a letdown when he turns out to be a fake.

Violet's journey ends with a rousing “Bring Me to the Light,” and lots for the audience to ponder. “Violet” would be good for teens to see, especially with a bit of preliminary discussion of 1960s history.

If you go

“Violet” plays through Feb. 7 at Town Hall Arts Center, 2450 W. Main St. in downtown Littleton. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays; 12:30 p.m. on Feb. 7. Tickets: $23-$42. Townhallartscenter.org, 303-794-2787, ext. 5.

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