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Who Gives a Shit When Sutton Is Here, and Other Things I Loved About Violet

I dunno, guys. Sometimes you see a kind of wonky musical and you just love it anyway.

A recent example of this? Violet – the story of a disfigured young woman on a pilgrimage for a cure, who meets two handsome military men, Monty and Flick, on the bus to Tulsa – whose Roundabout Theatre production just opened at the American Airlines on Sunday night.

Watching the show – with Skylar Astin mere rows away from me, obvi – I couldn’t help but understand Violet‘s long, slow road to Broadway. After all, this puppy made it’s off-Broadway debut seventeen years ago and is only just now receiving its first Broadway production. Something must have held it back, right? Like, you know… a story that feels a little thin and characters that are just slightly under-baked, a fault which can mostly be attributed to Brian Crawley’s book. Sure his dialog is beautiful, when it happens, but watching this production, there were times when I felt as if I was seeing a concert staging,  with the book and dialog cut back just a bit too far for my taste.

But you know what? Put a handful of performers as charming and talented as Sutton Foster (Violet), Colin Donnell (Monty) and Joshua Henry (Flick) on that stage, and at the end of the day, no one will give any fucks that the book is a little weak. Because they will be too busy gaping, open mouthed, at Henry as he drops a sick melisma on our ears, or fighting tears while Foster and Alexander Gemignani duet through Violet’s breakdown, or swooning over Colin Donnell’s sensitive transformation (and bangin’ biceps).

It hurts exactly nothing – NOTHING – that Jeanine Tesori’s score is absolutely stunning, full of the kinds of music that sound perfectly natural to be surrounding these characters. And Crawley’s lyrics do a wonderful job of balancing a musical’s need for clarity and story-telling, with modern music’s language of poetry and emotion. In Violet, the music is where it’s at — where all the fear and hope and sadness and joy in these characters’ lives find their best expression.

Plus, who doesn’t want to see Sutton Foster, one of Broadway’s very, very, very, very best on stage? Especially here, where there’s nary a tap shoe or brassy broad in sight. Just Violet, vulnerable and learning to locate a brave spirit inside. Singing in full, beautiful voice clear through the journey. This performance is so good, so detailed and internal and carefully composed, that you won’t miss any version of Sutton you’ve ever seen before.

So sure. I kind of wished for a little more detail in the story telling. Especially between Violet and Flick. But I was carried on an emotional journey that had me feeling engaged and alive and unable to stay still in my seat – I bopped to a gospel number, shrank away as characters struggled, surged forward as songs swelled with emotion. And that comes down to a handful of perfect performances bringing this beautiful score to life.

All in all, and flaws aside, I loved Violet. And hey. Maybe someday I’ll understand why the hell Sutton Foster was complaining about her face when she had two dudes as handsome and charming and sure as Colin Donnell and Joshua Henry fighting for her love. Miracles could happen!


Photo: Joan Marcus

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