‘Violet’ shows racial and faith-based tensions in 60s Appalachia thanks to Cadence Theatre
On the surface, Jeanine Tesori and Brian Crawley’s musical Violet is the story of a plucky young woman who learns to overcome years of suffering after an accident at age 13 left her face marred by an axe wound.
But Director Chase Kniffen says that the beloved musical, soon to premiere thanks to Virginia Repertory Theatre’s sister Cadence Theatre Company, unfolds to hold a wealth of deeper themes.
“It’s really a story of self-discovery and self-awareness, and for [Violet], self-acceptance,” said Kniffen.
Set in the 1960s, the musical follows the title character, a young white woman named Violet, as she sets foot on an adventure via Greyhound bus, determined to meet a televangelist whom she believes will be able to heal her scars.
Along the way, Violet must struggle with her plight as a pariah, her thoughts on faith, and the infamous racial tensions of the decade as a romance blooms between she and her busmate Flick, a Black army sergeant played by Josh Marin.
Christie Jackson, a JMU theater graduate and the title character in the show, believes the musical’s message is relevant now more than ever.
“I think that the show is really important right now, because it’s not only about self-acceptance, but it’s about the acceptance of other people who aren’t like you,” said Jackson. “How to find the good in yourself, and find the good in other people.”
While the script can communicate these complicated themes on its own, Kniffin says the musical’s score plays a key role in the work’s success.
“Jeanine Tesori, who wrote the score, is one of if not the most important female music writing voice of this time, and she’s able to really find ways to bring the characters’ stories and the characters’ realities to life with music,” Kniffen said. “[The musical numbers have] kind of the flavor of Appalachian sound but also really delves into the 60s sound as well, so it really makes it easy to tell the story.”
There are many things that make Violet a different kind of musical. The show’s characters are often from the margins of society, with motivations born of circumstances that viewers may not have personal experience with. But the beauty of the show, according to Jackson, is how much the audience may come to find that they have in common with the people on stage.
“Everybody has their own insecurities and their own issues with their place in the universe,” said Jackson. “There’s definitely a comfort in being able to see a story of a somebody… who has an issue with themselves that is so literal…be able to navigate that…and find happiness.”
The show premieres on February 18th at the Virginia Rep Center’s Theatre Gym. For tickets and more info, check out the show’s website here.
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