By: David Sheward
Sutton Foster proves she can do anything with her brilliantly grounded yet soaring performance in Violet, the 1997 musical that had a b
rief run Off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons and is making its Broadway debut in a Roundabout Theatre Company production. (This staging by Leigh Silverman is an expansion of her concert version at Encores! last year.) Foster has previously done perky ingénues in Thoroughly Modern Millie and The Drowsy Chaperone, spunky heroines in Shrek and Little Women, and a tough but soft-hearted hustler-showgirl in Anything Goes.
But her Violet is a combination of all these women. She’s a determined yet vulnerable believer, traveling on a series of Greyhounds from her rural home in 1965 North Carolina to Tulsa, Okla., in search of the televangelist she believes will heal the scar on her face and make her beautiful. Along the way she meets a pair of GIs-the cocky Monty and the sensitive Flick-both of whom fall for her.
Foster captures Violet’s desperate yearning to be normal and her steely determination to stay in control. Her strong voice is the perfect instrument for the eclectic score by composer Jeanine Tesori and lyricist Brian Crawley, which offers a smorgasbord of sounds not usually heard on Broadway-rock, rhythm and blues, country and western, and gospel, energetically played by the onstage band.
Colin Donnell skillfully conveys Monty’s smug confidence as well as his insecurities, particularly in "Last Time I Came to Memphis." In Flick’s solo number, "Let It Sing," Joshua Henry creates an inspiring message of hope and compassion delivered to Violet. There are solid characterization and vibrant vocals from Emerson Steele as young Violet, Alexander Gemignani as Violet’s loving but stern father, Annie Golden as an eccentric fellow passenger, Rema Webb as a gospel singer, and Ben Davis as the flashy TV preacher.
Leigh Silverman’s staging re-creates the intimacy of the small-scale Encores! version with the large-scale excitement of a Broadway show. With the aide of Mark Barton’s versatile lighting, David Zinn’s atmospheric bus-station set allows us to be travelling one minute and in a juke joint the next. I loved the specific details such as the snack-food stand in the background, complete with a magazine rack. It’s the little touches that make this such a moving show about everyday people.
April 20-Aug. 10. Roundabout Theater Company at the American Airlines Theater, 227 W. 42nd St., NYC. Tue 8pm, Wed 2pm & 8pm, Thu-Fri 8pm, Sat 2pm & 8pm, Sun 2pm. Running time 1 hour and 45 minutes, with no intermission. $67-142. (212) 719-1300. www.roundabouttheatre.org
Photography: Joan Marcus