Violet is a musical about a 20-something woman, Violet, with a prominent facial scar who travels in 1964 by Greyhound bus from Spruce Pine, North Carolina, to Tulsa, Oklahoma, to visit a televangelist and be “cured.” Along the way she meets people on the bus and is befriended by two soldiers returning to their army base.

Directed by Mikael Burke, Violet is a story about self love, self acceptance and the power of change. Its message is true beauty is only skin deep. 

The show delivers a wonderful, strong score (music by Jeanine Tesori, book and lyrics by Brian Crawley) including blues, rockabilly and gospel numbers from all 12 members of the cast. The singing is first-rate and reason enough to see the show. Eric Powers directs, conducts and plays the keyboard.

Adelina Marinello plays the title role in Violet. Credit: Justin Barbin

But through no fault of anyone on stage, the plot falls short. Violet is based on a short story, The Ugliest Pilgrim, by Doris Betts.

The ending of this condensed musical, 105 minutes without an intermission, differs from Betts’ ending. That’s the playwright’s artistic decision. Unfortunately, there are not enough substantive scenes between the leads to make the musical’s ending believable.

The audience never sees Violet’s scar, the result of an accident, only how the other characters in the show wince and look away when they see her for the first time.

The story is told in both flashback scenes of Violet as a young girl (Sadie Fridley) and Violet in the present day (Adelina Marinello), with many scenes presenting both characters on stage at the same time.

Both Fridley and Marinello are wonderful as Violet. Fridley’s Violet is a sweet farm girl about 13 years old, trying to figure out life and desperately missing her late mother. (At this point in the play, her father, played by Harrison Lewis, is still alive.)

Marinello’s Violet is a savvy card player with a sharp retort for anyone with an unkind comment. She’s also under the spell of the huckster preacher, convincingly played by Sean Zuckerman.

Sadie Fridley as young Violet learns how to play poker courtesy of her father, played by Harrison Lewis. Credit: Justin Barbin

The two soldiers, Matheus Barbee as Flick and Abraham Deitz-Green as Monty, embrace their roles fully. Flick is the smarter and more sensitive soldier who recognizes Violet’s deep emotional wound.

As a Black man traveling through the Deep South, people flinch from him, too. Monty is the dimmer soldier with a “love ‘em and leave ‘em” courting style, but he is captivated by Violet, largely based on pity.

Angelena Browne (Lula Buffington), Emefa Dzodzomenyo (Music Hall Singer) and Claire Guthrie (Old Lady/Old Hooker) are wonderful in supporting roles. Hopefully their next shows will give them more time on center stage.

Yun Lin (lighting design), Kate Landry (set design) and Kotryna L. Hilko (costume design) convey the atmosphere of a farm, a bus, a bus depot and a threadbare boarding house room through their specialties. 

The use of suitcases and duffel bags as baggage the characters carry around is a convenient metaphor, but one too easily dismissed. Beyond the too pat happy ending, the idea that Violet could let go of her psychic self-flagellation after re-meeting the soldiers in the bus station on her way back home is poppycock.

Go for the music and the songs. The actors sing their hearts out with big voices and beautiful harmonies, and the unseen musicians led by Powers are wonderful.

Violet is on stage at the Virginia Wadsworth Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts (30 Arts Circle Drive) on Northwestern’s campus through Feb. 26. Tickets are available online; prices vary. 

Wendi Kromash

Wendi Kromash is curious about everything and will write about anything. She tends to focus on one-on-one interviews with community leaders, recaps and reviews of cultural events, feature stories about...

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