Jeanine Tesori and Brian Crawley’s musical, originally performed Off-Broadway in 1997, is in many ways a classic Bildungsroman, complete with a heroine who goes on both a literal and spiritual journey across America.
Based on Doris Betts’ story The Ugliest Pilgrim, it tells the story Violet (Kaisa Hammarlund ), a young woman with a facial disfigurement who travels from North Carolina to Oklahoma in order to meet a television evangelist and be ‘cured’. Along the Greyhound bus route, she embarks on an unlikely friendship (and later romance) with two soldiers in training for Vietnam.
Directed by Shuntaro Fujita, in what is the first co-production for the Charing Cross Theatre with Japan’s Umeda Arts Theatre, Violet has an abundance of gentle quirky charm.
Tesori’s upbeat score is full of nods to Country and Bluegrass. On the whole, the cast sing it well – despite the sound mix making it difficult to decipher the lyrics at points – with Jay Marsh, as Army recruit Flick, providing some lovely, melodic pop notes in solo number Let It Sing.
Hammarlund, who also starred in Tesori’s Fun Home , makes a likeable Violet, her childish glee at movie stars and preachers both sympathetic and pitiable.
With a plot that flashes between the past and the present, the action gets a little muddled in places and there isn’t much in the way of narrative propulsion. But, these things aside, the show has enough heart to just about see it through, making Violet’s late acceptance of herself and her looks a satisfying conclusion.