I’ve never totally bought into “Beauty and the Beast.” What kind of life lesson is learning to love someone beautiful? Come on! What about the ugly people? It makes more sense to sentence the beast with a find-the-inner-beauty-in-yourself-and-others-to-be-truly-happy curse. “Inner Beauty and the Beast”?! I could get behind that story.
Bailiwick Chicago presents VIOLET. A scar-faced gal wants a miracle. She saved her money, bought a bus ticket and is traveling to a television evangelist. She believes! She believes she is ugly. She believes she can be saved. She believes this TV guy has divine powers. Before she can be truly healed, she travels cross-country with a bus of characters. Will she find what she is seeking at the end of the line? VIOLET is a musical about a young girl’s journey toward acceptance.
From the first note, this show is all about the singing. The ensemble melds together like a finely-tuned harmonica. It has a big soulful gospel choir sound with a blue grass twang. This show stars HARMONY. Seriously, the lead lives up to her name! Harmony France (Violet) illuminates beauty with her vocal talent. And she harmonizes perfectly with her ten talented cast mates. Musical director Andra Velis Simon masterfully conducts the tempo from her cubby, center stage and slightly behind the action. Along with direction and movement by Elizabeth Margolius, the show captivates with country-styled whimsy. On a set designed by John Zuiker, the look is simplistic and utilitarian. Crate-like bus seats transform into luggage. The effect has a dreamy quality as the cast journeys toward their destination. A wooden backdrop has mirrors and carved-out hutches for the past. Flashback scenes have a younger Violet and her pa emerge from the scenery for a glimpse of her childhood. The visual has a stylistic fluidity. The harmonies are inspirational melodies. I believe the combo is its own little divinity miracle.
The music is gorgeous! The story is ugly… really just plain. Based on “The Ugliest Pilgrim” by Doris Betts, Jeanine Tesori and Brian Crawley put her story to music in VIOLET. But somewhere the story isn’t really of significance. France is pretty, undeniably. Without any even pretend physical deformities, it’s hard to get onboard about the case of the uglies! So, a busload of people telling her differently seems odd. It’s a bit of a disconnect for me. And her sole ambition is to be pretty? Violet, Violet, Violet, what would pa say? Her beauty quest doesn’t really match her spunky personality. The best part of her crazy trip is she does meet Jim DeSelm (preacher). DeSelm is hilarious as the celebrity preacher! And Zuiker has whittled TV monitors into the wooden backdrop for a more sensational scene. Holy crap!
Despite the limited story, VIOLET is unforgettably lovely!
A man transformed in the first few minutes of the show, Shawn describes it with ‘shallow but beautiful.’
Running Time: Two hours and ten minutes includes an intermission
At Mercury Theatre, 3754 N. Southport
Based on “The Ugliest Pilgrim” by Doris Betts
Music by Jeanine Tesori
Lyrics and book by Brian Crawley
Direction and movement by Elizabeth Margolius
Music direction by Andra Velis Simon
Fridays at 7:30pm
Saturdays at 3pm and 7:30pm
Sundays at 3pm
Thru October 16th