Saturday, 19 December 2015

Violet, Blue Saint Productions, Hayes Theatre

Jeanine Tesori may not be the most well known of composers, but she's one of the most successful. Her shows vary between the intensely personal drama of "Fun Home" and "Caroline or Change", and the wildly commercially driven likes of "Shrek: The Musical" and "Thoroughly Modern Millie". Yet she's rarely kept a lyricist for more than one project (Tony Kushner is the only exception to the rule), and her melodic style varies very widely. Her first show, "Violet", leans more towards the personal-drama end of the scale, in a way that is perfectly designed for the small-stage Hayes, as a young girl in the 1960's south rides a bus to a faith-healer in hope of a miracle. If the eventual destination is not really very much in doubt, the journey is never the less pleasurable with good country-and-gospel sounds, a romance or two and some emotional breakthroughs before the end of the night.

Sam Dodemaide has been handed a gift of a part in "Violet" - she's rarely offstage and she gets to play a wide range of emotion, from hopefullness to devastation, from fear to anger to  joy, from guardedly witty to joyfully embracing possiblities. And she absolutely nails the role, keeping Violets journey clear and at the forefront of all the action. She's a performer to keep an eye out for in whatever roles she may take on.

In support, Barry Conrad as Flick sings attractively although his acting is a little stiff - a little looseness in his performance would help. Steve Danielsen's Monty is more succesfully playful. Damien Bermingham's Father has a gentle lovingness and guarded care that reflects well in his scenes with Dodemaide. Luisa Scrofani doesn't quite work as young Violet - it may be that I picked a bad night and she was both slightly off-key and over-miked in her opening lyrics, but it was difficult to warm to her (although in pieces like "Luck of the Draw" where she's playing off her older self in a scene that jumps across time-and-place it works well). Genevieve Lemon also has to be singled out in both her key cameos (her romping through as "Alice, A Lady of the Night" during some of the later scnees is, in a strict sense, brutal scene stealing but when something is this hilarious, who cares?)

Mitchel Butel as director and Amy Campbell as chroeographer use the small space well - in a cleverly adaptable design by Simon Greer that gets us from place to place and has several good points of focus for performers to work in. Jeremy Silver's sound design is a little too hefty for a small theatre - a show and theatre this size does not need to overpower the audience quite as much as this sound occasionally does.

In short, this is a good tight little musical with a powerhouse lead performance.

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