There’s a gentle ease that begins the proceedings in the Foothill Music Theatre production of the James Clawter and Jeanine Tesori musical “Violet,” a delightful romp of a show that follows a young woman battling inner-demons and outer scars, enlisting the services of a televangelist to save her from the world’s cruelties.
There are many stories that occupy the stage at one time – the veterans returning home forever changed, travelers yearning for the succulence of bucolic southern life, and of course, young Violet.
While this scene, smartly directed by Milissa Carey, captures many of these stories that may or may not be developed, the issues that the production faces feature a shortage of transcendent moments, contributing to a production that needs sharper cohesion.
The young Violet (Kaylee Miltersen) is blessed with a rambunctious spirit and a belief that a deep scar from a wood-chopping accident from her father (Ray D’Ambrosio) can be cured by a televangelist (James Schott). As she travels from her idyllic little town in the Blue Ridge Mountains to Tulsa, Oklahoma by bus, she comes across a colorful band of characters that give her advice, warmth, and some things she’s been missing for years – love and acceptance. But what she does have in spades is grit and guts.
That grit is appealing to a couple of soldiers she meets on the bus – the charmer Monty (Brad Satterwhite) and the handsome, chivalrous Flick (Thomas Times). The two young men do a lot for young Violet, namely teach her the ways of the world, but patronize her something fierce as well. Their intentions are not always virtuous, and while Violet, who more than likely had the best education of her life in the school of poker, tries to figure it all out, she faces an awakening as a young girl readying for adulthood. There are some serious conflicts as she navigates the passions that come with new feelings of passion and lust.
Miltersen’s portrayal of Violet is solid, despite a few moments of imbalance. It is a grueling role that places her on stage the bulk of the time, and she is able to capture many instances of Violet’s perilous journey. Vocally, she’s at her strongest in the moment’s where she advocates for Violet’s desperate needs, especially in a pathos-driven number such as “Look at Me.” We understand why the poor choices are made, and the brutal disappointments she gains on the way as the discoveries great and tragic pile up.
Despite the struggles at various moments in the narrative and some uneven vocal performances, there are some terrific portrayals that move forward in their own exuberance. D’Ambrosio makes for a charming father, wide-eyed and bushy-tailed while struggling to reconcile his role in Violet’s crushing existence. Barbara Heninger as “Old Lady” captures the charm of a true Southern woman, a wonderful character actor with the right amount of variance and warmth. Schott is a delight in multiple roles, but none more joyous and unsettling as the Preacher. And Melissa Dufort kills with a fantastic rendition of the gospel ditty “Raise Me Up,” alongside a scintillating gospel choir, the soloist channeling some serious Tramaine Hawkins vibes.
While the production can use a larger serving of highlights to reach higher ground, the technical aspects helped gloss over some of the production’s shortcomings. The ingenious set design by Yusuke Soi captures multiple locales with some slick and sly shifting, making for an expansive world. Y. Sharon Peng creates a bang-up job providing for a deceptively large amount of specific period costumes. And the lighting by Lily McLeod helps create subtlety in tender moments.
While there needs a stronger coating of spices to move the production to another level, “Violet” does what it’s supposed to do – tell a delightful story of perseverance built from trial and error. Despite how she feels about the unfortunate reminder of trauma that rests on her face, her ability to push past perceptions is what makes her beautiful, no matter what any profit preacher might say.
WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO
Foothill Music Theatre presents “Violet”
Book by James Clawter
Music and Lyrics by Jeanine Tesori
Directed by Milissa Carey
The Word: A production that doesn’t quite reach its target, but plenty of show-stealing turns and solid tech steps in and lends a hand.
Through Aug. 7
12345 El Monte Road, Los Altos Hills, CA 94022
Tickets range from $15 – $40
For tickets, visit the official website.
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