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Theater Review: A Beautiful ‘Violet’ at Street Theatre Company

1After viewing one of this weekend’s performances of Violet at Street Theatre Company I can see why Sutton Foster is leading a Broadway production of this lovely musical for the Roundabout Theatre Company. More importantly for here, though, I can also see why Cathy Sanborn Street, the multi-talented leader of STC, has been starring in her group’s beautiful version of the show alongside a top-notch cast and crew.

It’s a touching tale of self-discovery with music flavored with rhythm and blues, gospel and other elements by Jeanine Tesori (Caroline, or Change) and book and lyrics from Brian Crawley (A Little Princess) based on “The Ugliest Pilgrim” by Doris Betts. The musical premiered Off-Broadway in 1997 and won the Drama Critics’ Circle Award and Lucille Lortel Award as Best Musical.

Set in 1964, the story follows a young woman (Street) on a journey from North Carolina to Oklahoma, where she hopes a TV evangelist (Jordan Ravellette) will make the facial scar accidentally given to her years earlier by her father (W. Scott Stewart) go away. On her bus trip west she meets several memorable characters, including an old woman (Vicki White) who’s going to Nashville to live with her son and two soldiers (Devon Buchanan as Flick and Randy Craft as Monty), that help change the course of her life forever.

3I’ll get my only quibble out now: the story has an ending (I won’t provide specifics to avoid a spoiler for those that haven’t seen it) that feels too “love conquers all” given the time and place, but that’s certainly not the fault of the fine pros that put it on at STC. The pat ending aside, this show is lyrical in more than just music, and the abilities of Street and her colleagues brought that quality out in very engaging fashion.

Street’s voice is honey to the ear, but she’s also a very good actor; the combination of her great skills in Act II’s “Look at Me” was one of those “not a dry eye in the house” moments. And playing the younger version of Violet is the incredibly gifted Virginia Richardson, whose performance was the equal of Street’s in terms of high singing and acting quality; let’s hope Richardson continues to grace us with her work for many years.

2Buchanan, Craft, Ravellette, Stewart and White all had moments to savor; Director Jason Tucker has followed up his Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson triumph with yet another gem, and where these actors and others in Violet are concerned it’s obvious he knows casting is where much of his job lies. I would be remiss not to mention one more member of Tucker’s ensemble: the always-wonderful Jennifer Whitcomb-Oliva got to channel her inner Mahalia Jackson at one point in the proceedings, and that’s always worth the price of admission.

Rollie Mains‘ musical direction magic (keyboards too) was once again part of an STC success, and his bandmates Cameron Cleland (guitar), Tom D’Angelo (bass), Lee Druce (keys), Alan Puglisi (drums) and Lindsey Smith-Trostle (cello) were really smokin’. I really dug Andy Bleiler‘s picture-postcard set design, Jessica Mueller‘s period costumes, Jessica Neill‘s refreshing light design as well as the clarion sound design of JJ Street and Tucker.

4I wish the run of this show could be extended (it closes today), though having run a theater myself years ago I know that’s much easier said than done. There are many Nashville theater lovers that already appreciate the fine work Street Theatre Company does on such shows as Violet, but there should be many more. STC is as good show in, show out as any of the other Music City pro theater troupes.

For more about this show and Street Theatre Company click here to visit STC’s website.

5*Photos by Erin Richardson courtesy Street Theatre Company.

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About Evans Donnell

Evans Donnell is the chief theater, film and opera critic as well as co-founder of ArtsNash. He wrote reviews and features about theater, opera and classical music for The Tennessean from 2002 to 2011. He was the theater, film and opera critic for ArtNowNashville.com from 2011 to 2012. Donnell has also contributed to The Sondheim Review, Back Stage, The City Paper (Nashville), the Nashville Banner, The (Bowling Green, Ky.) Daily News and several other publications since beginning his professional journalism career in 1985 with The Lebanon (Tenn.) Democrat. He was selected as a fellow for the 2004 National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, and for National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) arts journalism institutes for theater and musical theater at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism in 2006 and classical music and opera at the Columbia University School of Journalism in 2009. He has also been an actor (member of Actors Equity Association and SAG-AFTRA), founding and running AthensSouth Theatre from 1996 to 2001 and appearing in Milos Forman's "The People vs Larry Flynt" among other credits. Donnell is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association (www.americantheatrecritics.org).