Rachel Weinberg has been a freelance theater critic around Chicago for more than three years. She is currently pursuing a Masters of Science in Integrated Marketing Communications from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. Prior to that, Rachel worked for two years in digital marketing at Goodman Theatre and spent a season as a Marketing Apprentice for Roundabout Theatre Company in New York City. You can read all of Rachel's reviews at RachelWeinbergReviews.com and find her on Twitter @RachelRWeinberg.
Pictured (front, l to r): Nicole Laurenzi, Stephen Allen and Will Lidke with the cast of Griffin Theatre Company’s production of VIOLET. Photo by Michael Brosilow.
By Rachel Weinberg
Griffin Theatre’s stunning production of VIOLET will simultaneously make hearts ache and soar. With music by Jeanine Tesori and libretto by Brian Crawley, director Scott Weinstein’s raw, heartfelt staging has a stellar cast that finds every moment of joy and sorrow possible in the material.
VIOLET weaves a tale of the musical’s central character (Nicole Laurenzi), who was involved in an accident with an ax that has left her with a disfiguring scar across her face. In flashback, we see pieces of Violet’s story as a teenager come together (Maya Lou Hlava masterfully assays the role of Young Violet). Now a young woman, Violet sets off on a bus journey across the American South en route to Tulsa, Oklahoma to see a televangelist she believes can heal her and make her beautiful. Along the way, Violet befriends two soldiers Monty (Will Lidke) and Flick (Stephen Allen). And though Violet may not receive the exact healing for which she hopes, this musical delivers a magnificent narrative about self-acceptance and love.
Griffin Theatre’s production values here are modest but serve the production so well. The small live band adds an extra dimension of liveliness to the show’s unique and rich score. Lauren Nigri’s set design is sparse but effectively communicates the many locations through which Violet travels. And though we do not see Violet’s scar, costume designer Izumi Inaba dresses her in a plain fashion that underscores how the character sees herself.
Though Violet may be simply dressed, there is nothing plain about Laurenzi’s anchoring performance. She sings beautifully and infuses each musical note and line of dialogue with vulnerability and moments of true pain and happiness. Laurenzi’s take on the role is a veritable master class in musical theater acting. Allen brings down the house with his commanding vocals in the role of Flick, and he’s a heartwarmingly splendid actor too. Lidke is a great counterpart to Allen and also gives a strong vocal performance. As Young Violet, Hlava demonstrates that she has quite the career ahead of her, and together with Laurenzi, the two seem delightfully in sync. Matt W. Miles is excellent as Violet’s gruff Father. And kudos must be paid to understudy Brittney Brown in the role of Lula, who brings down the house as a singer in the televangelist’s choir.
Though VIOLET is not traditional holiday fare, this musical’s beautiful story and score seem worthy of this season of celebration. For musical theater lovers, this is an extraordinary opportunity to see a seldom-produced musical bursting at the seams with emotion.
VIOLET runs through January 13th. For more information visit griffintheatre.com.