Adapted from Doris Betts’ short story The Ugliest Pilgrim, first published in 1973, VIOLET has book and lyrics by Brian Crawley and music by Jeanine Tesori. Set in 1964, the story follows the strong-willed protagonist (Violet) on her journey North Carolina to Oklahoma, where she hopes a televangelist preacher will “heal” the scar she’s had on her face since she was 13. On the bus trip, she meets Monty and Flick, one white and one black soldier, respectively. Through her disappointment with the preacher, but more importantly through her relationship with Flick, she learns about courage, love, and how to overcome her bitterness. VIOLET is one of the most acclaimed off-Broadway shows of the ‘90s. In true Tesori fashion, the score is an eclectic mix of gospel, rock, country, and R&B, with well-crafted book and lyrics by Crawley.
Often times, musical adaptations of pieces of classic literature struggle to fit all of the important moments from the source material into the musical form. As a result, the stage show can become an abridged, and sometimes cramped, version of the original. VIOLET is really served by the fact that the source material is a short story. Because the original story is itself more compact, the musical is allowed to expand upon the material. This may be one of the reasons that VIOLET is a show of such depth. Tesori and Crawley are really able to flesh out the characters and their relationships with great song moments like “Luck of the Draw” and “Look At Me.”
VIOLET is a great show for theaters with strong singers looking for an ensemble piece. Also, the cast is multi-generational (including roles for kids) and multi-ethnic. The small to medium size orchestra makes it producible. It’s also a star vehicle for an adult woman, and a teenage girl. One of the most exciting things about VIOLET is that it’s not your typical musical theater fare, but is still incredibly accessible. For information about the production requirements for the show click here.
As with many of the shows in the MTI catalogue based on literature, VIOLET is a good way to expose theatergoers to a new story they might not already be familiar with, while also drawing in fans of the original work who might not typically go to the theater. Also, despite it’s extreme success and acclaim off-Broadway, not to mention numerous awards, VIOLET didn’t have a Broadway run, which means it may be a new treat for many audiences who feel they’ve seen the more familiar shows one too many times.