‘Violet’ boards a bus and finds a miracle along the way in Portsmouth
March 08. 2017 12:45PM
The story chronicles a young woman’s search for healing on a cross-country bus trip that takes her to places she didn’t expect. It is based on the 1973 short story “The Ugliest Pilgrim” by North Carolina writer Doris Betts. “Violet” originally opened on Broadway in 2014, and was nominated for four Tony Awards.
“It’s definitely had a big revival,” said Taryn Herman, who is directing the Seacoast production. “It’s something special, for sure. The music just sticks with you.”
The musical depicts the journey of Violet Karl, a mountain girl whose face was disfigured in an accident. She boards a Greyhound bus in North Carolina hoping that a preacher in Tulsa can heal her scar. On her trip to Oklahoma she is joined by two soldiers, Flick and Monty, who challenge her faith in the preacher and compete for her affections.
“Violet goes looking for a miracle with this preacher, but she finds the miracle in this person she meets on the bus,” Herman said.
Flick, unlike Monty and Violet, is African-American, and the musical reflects the racial tension of the South in 1964. But there are modern echoes, said Alyssa Dumas, who plays Violet.
“It’s taking a step back in time, but at the same time, not,” Dumas said, adding the derogatory terms people once used continue to echo today. “As horrible as it is now, I feel like history is repeating itself.”
Another challenge for Dumas was playing flashback scenes with Caroline Shaheen, who plays Violet as a child, before the accident. It takes careful physical and emotional coordination.
“We made sure we get hand gestures the same when it comes to hiding our scar, and that we’re getting the physicality the same way,” she said. “It’s definitely challenging to try to bring your young memories back into your older self.”
The musical score was written by Jeanine Tesori, a Tony-winning composer who also wrote scores for “Shrek the Musical,” “Fun Home” and “Caroline,” and it portrays the rich range of Southern music.
“That’s where the most of story is told, in the songs,” Herman said. “It has a little bit of everything — gospel, country, folk. They go through Memphis at one point so it’s got that blues and rock ‘n’ roll of that time.”
Dumas is a Plymouth State University graduate who debuted last year with the Seacoast Rep in the pop-music revue “The Marvelous Wonderettes,” also directed by Herman. Dumas has had to put a twang into her singing for Violet. But she got an early start, growing up in a country-music listening family and appearing in a country music competition in her middle-school years.
Flick is played by New York-area actor Michael Crumbley. A mix of Seacoast veterans and newcomers round out the cast. The music director is University of New Hampshire Musical Theater Director John Berst, whose ensemble will perform on stage for the show.
“There is a universal message in Violet’s journey to overcome the personal demons she has buried under her disfigurement, Herman said. “We’re all on a journey and we all have some scars whether they are visible or not,” Herman said. “We all need something to believe in.”
Shows are Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 2 and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through April 2, with an additional showing at 10 a.m. Friday, March 24. Tickets are $20-$38. For information, call 433-4472 or visit seacoastrep.org.