There’s no other way to say this: Front Porch Theatricals’ production of Violet is one of the most magnificent evenings I’ve ever spent inside a theater.
The show, with music by Jeanine Tesori and book and lyrics by Brian Crawley, first played off-Broadway, to acclaim and awards, in 1997. It made it to Broadway in 2014 — great reviews but only a five-month run.
The title character is a young woman from the North Carolina backwoods in 1964 traveling to see an Oklahoma televangelist, hoping he’ll heal her face, which was disfigured in a childhood accident. On the bus she meets two soldiers heading for an Army base: Flick, a black sergeant, and Monty, a white corporal. The three quickly bond, and most of the musical is their bus ride and the highly complex relationship they create. This intermissionless show ends with Violet’s meeting the televangelist and the fallout.
Nothing happens the way you think it will, not just in the story but in Tesori’s musical score as well. She snakes in and out of myriad styles — blues, jazz, country, gospel, hillbilly and God knows what else — and somehow creates a cohesive, but endlessly surprising, whole.
I don’t know if they’re practicing witchcraft over there, but Front Porch has managed to summon the perfect person for every role — from director Robyne Parrish and her forceful, deeply human vision to musical director Deana Muro and her extraordinary band. Creating a rock-solid temporal specificity as light, sound, set and costume designers are, respectively, Annmarie Duggan, Angela Baughman, Johnmichael Bohach and, especially, Kim Brown.
And then this cast. Elizabeth Boyke, as Violet, is as heart-pounding and soul-lifting as any performer I’ve ever seen. Daniel Mayhak and Lamont Walker II, as Monty and Flick, are intensely engaging. (Walker soars with his solo number.) Gena Sims, Missy Moreno and Becky Toth raise the roof effortlessly. Erich Lascek and Jonathan Visser shine as preacher and father, while Samantha Lucas, Daniel Pivovar, David Ieong and Corwin Stoddard dazzle in their supporting roles.
How all this managed to come together in one evening I couldn’t tell you, but I can say you’d be a fool to miss it.