note: entire contents copyright 2010 by Sheila Barth
Battling last Saturday night’s traffic to Watertown was harrowing but worth the trip to see F.U.D.G.E. Theatre Company Inc.’s production of off-Broadway, award-winning musical play, “Violet”.
Based on Doris Betts’ 1973 story, “The Ugliest Pilgrim,” the play has a compelling, musical score composed by multi-award winner Jeanine Tesori, with book and lyrics by Brian Crawley, that won the Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Musical over all Broadway shows in 1997. It also took the Obie and Lucille Lortel awards that year.
“Violet” won instant acclaim with its gospel, rock, country, rhythm and blues numbers and heartwarming story of two misfits, set in the Deep South during the early rumblings of the Civil Rights movement in 1964. F.U.D.G.E. (Friends United Developing Genuine Entertainment) is a small, dedicated, award-winning theatrical group that has consistently produced edgy, top drawer entertainment in Black Box spaces. This brief run of “Vioet” is no exception. The cast, musicians, and direction are superlative.
Besides Music Director Jose Delgado winning many awards, he’s also an outstanding performer, composer, arranger, and faculty member at Emerson College who heads his own company, Jose Delgado Music Studios. His efforts at the keyboard and as conductor of the rich-sounding five-piece band in “Violet” are fantastic.
F.U.D.G.E. co-founder-artistic director Joe DeMita has a first-rate production here, with relatively minor glitches. His set design, which includes a ramp, a few levels on either side of a centrally-located,semi-circular shady blue mountain scene, is uneventful,though. During scenes in an evangelical tent or TV show, a barely discernible church window image is superimposed on the mountain scenery.
The plot is heartwarming, tender. It’s the story of a young woman named Violet, whose entire life is marred by an unfortunate accident that occurred when her dad’s ax handle loosened, flew off while he was chopping wood, and disfigured her face when she was 13 years old. She complains he waited too long to get it repaired properly. At 25, and orphaned, Violet has taken all of her money to travel by bus from her sleepy town in North Carolina to Tulsa, Okla. She is convinced the TV healing preacher there can miraculously eliminate the hideous scar running across her face and nose, thus restoring her natural beauty - and her psyche. She has suffered from taunts, abuse, cruel stares all of her life, and wants desperately to cast off her pain.
On the bus, amid several stops, she meets two soldiers, a white man named Monty,and a black sergeant named Flick, who impact her life. Jared Walsh as blond soldier Monty comes across initially as a self-centered white guy, but softens towards Violet, while singing love song, “You’re Different,” to her. Both men see her inner beauty.
Besides his fine acting skills, Kaedon Gray as black sergeant Flick unleashes his fabulous vocal range and training in all numbers; as does singer Nelly Mupier when she lets loose in gospel solos. James Petty in cameo roles as burned-out evangelical preacher, bus driver, and radio soloist, is also impressive. So is the rest of this cast.
Violet has several flashbacks, reflecting on highlights of her life, including the accident, which meld the past with the present. Both 25-year-old Violet, (touchingly portrayed by Shawna O’Brien), and younger Violet, (youthful looking Kacee Staiti), are terrific, but Staiti’s pseudo Southern accent makes it difficult at times to understand her.
Also, neither Violet’s scar is visible, but it’s needed in order to fully see and understand her pain. Instead, Staiti is charmingly cute, and O’Brien is downright beautiful.
Overall, F.U.D.G.E.’s two-hour adaptation is an impressive work of theatrical art that reaches out and touches humanity‘s inner soul - in a marvelous, miraculous, musical way.
BOX INFO: Two-act musical, music by Jeanine Tesori, book and lyrics by Brian Crawley, appearing with the F.U.D.G.E. Theatre Company Inc. at the Arsenal Center for the Arts Black Box Theatre, 321 Arsenal St., Watertown, through August 7. Performances are August 5,6, at 8 p.m.; August 7 at 4 p.m. Tickets are $20; but Thursday, August 5, is pay whatever you can at the door only. For reservations, call 781-245-0500 or visit www.FudgeTheatre.com.