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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, March 11, 2016 - Volume 44 Issue 11
Violet ascends with a joyful noise
Arts & Entertainment
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Violet ascends with a joyful noise

by Paul Torres - SGN A&E Writer

VIOLET
ARTSWEST
Through April 3


When we first meet Violet, the title character in ArtsWest's new musical Violet, she is a meek woman with a disfigured face seeking a miracle cure. She boards a Greyhound bus for a trip from her home in Spruce Pine, North Carolina to Tulsa in 1964 to try and meet a TV evangelist she believes will heal the facial scar she received from an ax blade incident when she was a child. Violet is a spellbinding tale of hope, faith, and healing.

Brenna Wagner is positively brilliant as the tough yet vulnerable Violet. As Violet travels, she interacts with two soldiers. She also interacts with her younger self, Young Vi (Eliza Ludlum), which brings out the pluck and vigor of her bygone youth, and her late father (a splendid Brian Simmons), who serves as her guide and mentor. His assistance to her during a high-spirited poker game with the two soldiers Monty (wonderfully performed by Casey Raiha) and Flick (an outstanding Jesse Smith) is an entertaining high point. The show's 'Luck of the Draw' number is totally fun.

Another exciting musical number is 'All to Pieces,' where she expresses to her new friends which movie stars' facial features she pines for on her own face. She continues her trip and meets the preacher (expertly played by David Caldwell), and learns some painful lessons between what she believes and what is real in the song 'Look at Me.'

Director Andrew Russell brings to life what could be borderline stock characters - catechism-clutching naïve Southern girl, slimy TV evangelist, folksy ghost father, bus passengers/gospel singers serving as a Greek chorus, and cocksure and charming white soldier/sage-like and fervent African-American soldier, etc. Russell daringly treads this line expertly and auspiciously. Yes, we have seen these characters before, but in this production they all shine new and they are fascinating. The foot-tapping, catchy music also elevates the story.

Violet is based on the short story 'The Ugliest Pilgrim' by Doris Betts. Brian Crawley (lyrics and book) and Jeanine Tesori (music) stitch together an engaging and a bit haunting fable from the American South akin to the stories like Eudora Welty's 'A Worn Path' and even Shirley Jackson's 'The Lottery,' but set to gospel, honky-tonk, and bluegrass tunes. The wonderful music lifts the spiritual journey of this story and reinforces its social moralities themes.

In Violet, Violet's journey becomes her destination. Her final transformation is sweet and sad, but perfect for her. From the opening duet between her and Young Vi in the heartbreaking and folksy 'Water in the Well' to the final stanza of self-discovery and liberation in the gospel-infused 'Bring Me to Light,' Violet is an absolute triumph.

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Violet ascends with a joyful noise
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Assassins - Dead On!
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THE MOISTURE FESTIVAL OF COMEDY/VARIETÈ

The Lucky 13th Annual Moisture Festival OPENS MARCH 17th!

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Four every Season: Jersey Boys get their turn
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Earth Tomes: celebrating the earth
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Charming Brooklyn Bridge offers community to a lonely girl
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THE GLITTER OF THE LITERATI:

The Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival and the Saints & Sinners Festival

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Paul McCartney returning to Seattle next month
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Malick's Cups an esoteric jolt of pure cinematic imagination
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Afghan war satire Whiskey Tango Foxtrot a Tina Fey showcase
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Clever Cloverfield Lane a monstrously entertaining thriller
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