REVIEW: Violet

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Musicals are incredibly difficult to produce and so when one is done well, everyone needs to go show their support.  VIOLET is a very good musical, now playing at Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati.  It’s full of terrific vocals, a wonderful score, and some of the finest performers in the region.

It’s the story of a young woman, Violet (Brooke Steele), in search of healing for a disfiguring scar on her face.  She is traveling to meet a faith healer in Tulsa (Phil Fiorini) and we take the journey along with her.  She meets lots of folks, but most important are two soldiers, Monty (Mark Beyer) and Flick (Phillip Johnson Richardson) with whom she has a complicated relationship.  We also see flashbacks with her father (Charlie Clark) and a younger version of herself (Delaney Ragusa). Also in the cast: Torie Wiggins, Kate Wilford, Patrick Phillips, Sara Mackie, Andrew Maloney, and Stephen Kell.

From the minute the show starts, its obvious that this is a special production.  Scot Wooley’s musical direction is nearly perfect; with the exception of some belting-turned-shouting, its hard to find fault with any of the musical elements.  The acting is good, too, though I must admit that I never fully emotionally connected with what was happening on stage.  I admired it, but it didn’t move me.  I’m not sure why.

That said, this is a must-see production.  Brooke Steele has a vocal acumen rarely seen on local stages; in a bigger venue she would soar even higher.  Delaney Ragusa, a high school student, has a sweetness to her voice and her mannerisms matched the sass of Steele’s older version of the character.  Andrew Maloney surprised me with his top-notch vocal number, and Sara Mackie is a powerhouse as usual.  Phillip Johnson Richardson is the first to steal the show with pristine runs and gorgeous singing.  But perhaps most interesting is the gospel jubilee in the middle of the show, where Torie Wiggins steals the show too, and ups her game with a vivacious performance that left me in awe.  What a talented lady.  Patrick Phillips, Kate Wilford, and Phil Fiorini all give great acting performances, while Charlie Clark is great in his role, as well.  It’s a great cast.

Patti James choreography is minimalistic; moving actors as necessary but not overdoing it.  After seeing her intense workout in LYSISTRATA JONES it’s fun to see the other side of her abilities.  Director Lynn Meyers is a master at assembling a fine group of actors and then getting out of their way; with a production this size her quiet, deft hand is present but not overpowering.  The story is told beautifully.

This show is a celebration of 30 years of excellence from Ensemble Theatre; it is a great representation of what makes this company so special.  I highly recommend you see it.

VIOLET runs through May 22nd at Ensemble Theater of Cincinnati.  TIckets and more information can be found here.