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“Violet” blossoms at Porthouse Theatre

Roy Berko

(Member, American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle)

Musicals can, among other things,  be loud and brassy (think “Gypsy), filled with high drama (“Les Misérables), emotionally wrenching (“Carousel”), delightful (“Something Rotten”), filled with romantic, lush music (“An American in Paris”), farcical (“A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”), political (“Cabaret”), or historical (“1776”).

“Violet,” the musical by Jeanine Tesori (music) and Brian Crawley (lyrics and book), which is now on stage at Porthouse Theatre, is none of these.  It is a gentle story, with music that is not memorable.  And though it isn’t the type of show that wins Tony Awards, it is the kind of show, with the right directing and cast, that can provide a wonderful theatrical experience.

Fortunately for the audiences that should flock to see the Porthouse production, Director Steven C. Anderson has conceived a well-crafted and creative show, which is engrossingly performed by a very strong cast.

“Violet” is based on “The Ugliest Pilgrim,” a short story by Doris Betts.   It examines personal perceptions and the effect of our society’s pressures to look “perfect.”

Violet was scarred when an ax wielded by her father “accidentally” sliced her face from nose to ear (“The scar that cuts a rainbow clear across my cheek…”).  She becomes obsessed by her vision of herself as ugly, unattractive to everyone.  Violet becomes obsessed with a televangelist who she believes offers her last chance to be cured.  She sets out on a bus ride from Spruce Pine, a small town in the hills of North Carolina, to Tulsa, Oklahoma in order to be healed.   During the trip she comes upon two soldiers, Flick, who is African American, and Monty, who is white, who seem unaffected by her scars and fight for her love.

The storyline has enough twists and turns and suspense to hold the audience’s attention.  The staging keeps the show riding along smoothly, adding some interesting visualizations, and overcoming much of the trouble usually presented by Porthouse’s thrust stage where the audience members sitting in the side sections, may have difficulty hearing.   A lot of the sound floats into the woods which surround the open theatre, making the sound system almost useless.  Expect to lose some of the spoken words, and even some song lyrics.  It may be distracting, but the story line will remain obvious.

Questions abound. “What is meant by beauty?”   “Is beauty in the eye of the beholder?”  “Can someone find love even if they are physically scared?”  “Can a person’s attitude about themselves be changed by unconditional love?

The music integrates the twangy flavors of gospel, country, bluegrass, Memphis blues, and honky-tonk rock.  Though there is no single memorable song in the score, the overall musical sound fits the multi-moods of the story, etching the characters and effectively pushing the plot along.

Amy Fritsche is completely believable as Violet.  She transforms herself into the character, never leaving any hint that she is acting.  Her singing voice is strong.  Her renditions of “Lay Down Your Head,” “Raise Me Up,” and “On My Way” are all enveloping.

Talia Consentino, as Young Violet, is wonderful.  A rising Junior at Kent State, the young lady, who easily passes for a tween, has a fine singing voice and stage presence.  Her, “Look at Me,” a duet with Fritsche, is well performed.

Jared Dixon shines as Flick, an African American army sergeant, who, like Violet, suffers emotional scars from living in the Deep South in segregated 1964.  Dixon gives a finely tuned interpretation to the role.   His duet, “Promise Me, Violet,” sung with Fritsche, is compelling as is his “Let It Sing.”

Ian Benjamin’s “aw shucks” attitude is perfect for the character of Monty, the gum chewing, tall, lanky, self-confident paratrooper.   His “Question and Answer” duet with Dixon was one of the show’s comic delights.

Shamara Costa wailed as the Gospel Soloist and Paul Floriano developed well the disillusioned Preacher.

Musical Director Jennifer Korecki and her band, Ryan McDermott (Guitar/Banjo), Don T. Day (Bass), William Sallak (Percussion) and Michael Houff (Violin/Fiddle) did an excellent job of setting the proper musical tone as well as supporting and not drowning out the singers.

“Violet” premiered off-Broadway in 1997 and was selected by the Drama Critic’s Circle as Best Musical.  It opened on Broadway in 2014 with Sutton Foster playing Violet.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: While “Violet” does not have the components of a classic musical production it is a special evening of theatre resulting from a clear directing concept by Steven C. Anderson, fine instrumental performances, excellent vocalizations by the entire cast, and excellent acting.

“Violet” runs until June 27, 2015 at Porthouse Theatre.  For tickets call 330-672-3884 or go online to

NEXT UP AT PORTHOUSE: “Hairspray” from July 30-August 16.  Curtain times are 8 PM Tuesdays through Saturdays and 2 PM Sundays. The picnic grounds at Blossom open 90 minutes prior to curtain time.