• Theater Review: Musical finds deeper salvation
    By Jim Lowe
     | August 02,2014

    WAITSFIELD — What does a disfigured young woman from the hills from North Carolina do to regain her life? She hops a bus to see a faith healer in Oklahoma — and she sings about it.

    “Violet,” the musical with music by Jeanine Tesori and libretto by Brian Crawley, is about to open on Broadway, but you can see it in a delightful splashy professional production right now at The Skinner Barn.

    Based on the short story “The Ugliest Pilgrim” by Doris Betts, “Violet” tells the story of a woman who, disfigured by an accidental ax blow as a child, looks to be healed by a TV evangelist. She hops a Greyhound and meets a bunch of interesting people along the way. Meanwhile, her gritty childhood is told in a series of flashbacks.

    Violet meets a couple of soldiers on the bus, the happy-go-lucky Monty, whom she falls for, and the African-American Flick, who falls for her. It’s the civil rights era in the deep South, so her and Monty’s friendship with Flick brings its share of problems. After a series of misadventures, Violet finds the preacher, and salvation — but not the one she planned on.

    The story is a bit convoluted with its many colorful problems, but it is intriguing and ultimately entertaining. Tesori’s attractive music is a mix of blues and current Broadway fare. It’s not a great musical, but it is great fun.

    The Commons Group production, directed by Nick Corley, was quite convincing at Wednesday’s opening night performance, an evening of ingratiating musical entertainment. The mix of New York and Vermont professionals resulted in a consistently well-sung and well-acted performance.

    Cotton Wright sang well and was particularly feisty and sympathetic as the troubled but determined Violet. Stellar, though, was Victoria Fearn as young Violet. The soon-to-be South Burlington High freshman sang and acted with a refreshing naturalness.

    Stephane Duret was particularly attractive as Flick, vocally and theatrically, and delivered a touching and dimensional performance. He was complemented by Justin Rowe as Monty, who managed the character’s superficiality as well as his more serious side convincingly.

    Peter Boynton, the Commons Group’s artistic director, was amazing in two disparate roles, deeply dimensional as Violet’s troubled father and most entertaining as the sleazy evangelist. The show also benefited from deeply touching singing by Ann Harvey.

    Jono Mainelli returned to offer the first-rate musical direction, joined in the pit band by four most competent musicians. Corley was responsible for the simple but effective staging, imaginatively and dramatically lit by Dylan Friedman. Ruth Ann Pattee was responsible for the appropriate and attractive costumes.

    The Commons Group’s “Violet” provided a most entertaining evening of musical theater.


    The Commons Group presents “Violet,” a musical by Jeanine Tesori and Brian Crawley, through Aug. 10 at The Skinner Barn, 609 Common Road in Waitsfield. Performances are at 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Sundays. Tickets are $25; call 496-4422 or go online to www.theskinnerbarn.com.

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