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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
VIOLET
at American Airlines Theater

BEAUTY INSIDE
By JOANNE KAUFMAN

  Joshua Henry, Sutton Foster and Colin Donnell/ Ph: Joan Marcus

Someone had better summon a structural engineer (and quick) to make sure the roof of the American Airlines Theater is well secured. That’s because every time Joshua Henry starts to sing he seems bound and determined to blow the lid off the joint. Go ahead; let him. He’s one of the pleasures of the Jeanine Tesori musical Violet, which had a very brief run off-Broadway a dozen and a half years ago, and has just migrated to Broadway with the glorious Sutton Foster in the title role.
 
Granted, the source material isn’t particularly promising. Based on the short story “The Ugliest Pilgrim” by Doris Betts, Violet centers on a hideously disfigured young North Carolina woman – her face accidentally split by an ax blade during childhood – who embarks on a cross-country bus trip convinced that a televangelist can make a miracle and make her whole. En route, Violet meets a pair of soldiers (Henry and Colin Donnell), both of whom alter the way she looks at herself. The take-home: Faith is a wonderful thing; God does, indeed, work in mysterious ways; and inner beauty packs a wallop. The stage directions for Violet require audiences to imagine the scar that has blighted the life of the title character. And Foster plays the role without makeup. The truth: she still looks adorable.
 

In more tremulous hands, Violet, which is told partly in flashbacks, could be unbearable. Even this fluidly staged production has its sticky moments. But director Leigh Silverman generally keeps things moving along and keeps the sentimentality at bay. And the performers are so utterly invested in their characters, so committed to them, that you want to buy whatever it is they’re selling – and whatever it is they’re singing. The score is a flavorsome blend of blues and gospel, honky-tonk and rock. Henry aims for the heavens; Foster aims for our hearts.

 


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