A BUS RIDE TO OKLAHOMA IS AN INSPIRATIONAL ROAD TRIP FOR VIOLET
A CINDERELLA STORY OF HOPE AND CHANGE SHINES AT BAY AREA MUSICALS WINTER PRODUCTION
The bus to Tulsa, Oklahoma leaves on time in the musical VIOLET now on stage at Bay Area Musicals Alcazar stage. VIOLET has a proven creative team with music by Jeanine Tesori, composer of Fun Home, Caroline, or Change, and Soft Power. Book and lyrics by Brian Crawley, based on the short story “The Ugliest Pilgrim” by Doris Betts. VIOLET opens the winter season for BAM’s hit season. VIOLET is now on stage through March 17th at the Alcazar Theatre in San Francisco. BAM Artistic Director Matthew McCoy says “Although VIOLET takes place in the deep South in 1964, the judgements and prejudices that Violet faces (as a woman who is disfigured and in the company of an African American soldier) are sadly all too relevant to us in 2019. The themes and tones of this show resonate deeply.”
Directed by the accomplished Dyan McBride she brings the Bay Area’s best to produce this charming musical. McBride says “VIOLET is ultimately a play about perception. How are we seen by others? What is beauty? How do we see ourselves? With a killer score and a very smart book, this powerful musical takes audiences on a ride with a complicated protagonist who more than earns her title billing.”
Set in 1964 as President Johnson is accelerating the war in Vietnam, and as racial discrimination is still common throughout the South. A young women Violet rides a bus through Tennessee and Arkansas. Violet is played by the incomparable Juliana Lustenader, she plans to find a TV evangelist in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She is convinced he can heal her facial scar from a childhood accident. This is a classic road trip story, and along the way she meets two soldiers, one white and the other African American. Marked as an ugly duckling, the two teach her about love, courage and the true meaning of beauty. Music director Jon Gallo brings the rich score by Tesori a full American rhythm and blues and gospel mix. Juliana Lustenader opens the road trip with superb solo “Surprised” that features her pitch perfect voice.
The story unfolds on the Greyhound bus and along the way Violet meets a cast of eclectic characters as she pilgrimages to her miracle. An Older Lady played by the marvelous Shay Oglesby-Smith helps Violet find her way on the bus. While on the bus she meets two soldiers; The first, Flick, whose race as a black man in the army is an important plot piece to the story. The second soldier is Monty and both men share their stories with her, tease her, and inevitably go after her heart in spite of one another. In the song “All the Pieces” Jon David Randel as Flick and Jack O’Reilly as Monty along with Lustenader all show off their gifted voices. Later the dynamic Randle has a terrific solo “Let it Sing” that stops the show - his voice is splendid. The two men are en route to Fort Smith, Arkansas that will likely be their deployment point for their tour of duty in Vietnam.
The younger 13 year Violet (Vi) is played by the talented Miranda Long, and proves her professional talent in the song “Water in the Well”. Her characterization of Young Vi ranged from sweet, to assertive, to irreverent throughout the story. Vi shadows the adult Violet and the staging is very effective. Few and far between are young actors who can carry a show the way Young Violet is written, but Long pulled it off with the ease of a seasoned actor. The stellar Eric Neiman as Violet’s father is a loving inspiration to his daughter. His sweetness with his only child includes teaching her to be one of the best poker card players in the county. In dramatic times there is a scene where he must rush Vi to the doctor through rough terrain. Neiman shines in his song “Luck of the Draw” along with Lustenader, O’Reilly and Randle. Later Neiman is polished in his solo “That’s What I Could Do” that begins to close Violets story.
Violet’s true love interest is Flick, but O’Reilly as Monty showed off an enormous range in “Last Time I Came to Memphis”. Lustenader’s solo “Lay Down Your Head” as Monty slept in her arms is touching because the character finally begins to arc as she realizes that she’s not only capable of being loved and treated with respect, but that she deserves it. Violet is known for being ugly both in aesthetic and personality; and while Lustenader herself is attractive, it wasn’t hard to believe that she believed that she was ugly. Violet’s self-loathing inspired songs of desire and hatred. The makeup for both the actors is set for our own imagination of what the accident did to her face--an important part of the theme of the story. Crawley’s script alternates between two eras of time and McBride’s direction is clear in the staging even on the small set.
Bay Area favorite, Clay David, is awesome as the two faced preacher who reeks of carnival barker/Professor Harold Hill’s boastfulness that he nails with each appearance. David brings the audience to their feet in the gospel number “Raise Me Up”. He will make you a believer, backed up buy the ensemble of full force gospel singers including the show stopping Tanika Baptiste as Lula. The brilliant Clay David performance was spirited and well-timed as he switched to salesmen barker mode. The other actors played off of him well. David also played one of many bus drivers that Violet meets along the way.
The remainder of the hardworking ensemble, each of whom take on multiple roles throughout include the impressive Tucker Gold as Vi’s first boy friend Billy Dean. The ensemble of women are given special moments to shine as the radio trio in the song “Who’ll Be the One”. The amazing Andrea Dennison-Laufer as the Music Hall Singer, and Baptiste as Lula Buffington. VIOLET is a musical drama that hinges on the emotional performances of its cast. Each actor is given their due spotlight to deliver their important themes including Elizabeth Jones as the Hotel Hooker and Music Hall Dancer along with the high stepping Danielle Philapil. The high energy Kim Larsen, April Deutschie and Jourdan Oliver-Verde fill out other roles and carry the company choir to the back rows of the Alcazar.
Choreographed by multi talented McCoy, he also designed the clever set that is on a turntable that takes us on the 100 minute long bus ride with no intermission. McCoy set the tone of the musical from the moment bus riders find their seats, on a clever turntable that moves the show from bus stop to bus stop. With its grays and blue backdrop that painted the imaginations of many, they created an authentic look and feel of 1964 rural America. Clay David also wears many hats in this production; he created the many props for the story including the diner stops, suitcases, purses, the church alter and that classic southern 60’s charm.
Mixed with the mood lighting design by Eric Johnson it enhanced the feel of the story. It is a keen framing device for the cast, who are adorned in Brook Jennings’ pertinent 60’s perfect costumes, including the shine off the Preachers jacket and the ruby red dresses on the dance hall singers. Sound designer Anton Hedman did an amazing job making sure that the mixes were professional and sleek. Stage manager Genevieve Padon and her team Isaac Traister and Frank Cardinal kept the set turntable smooth as the ride on the bus visited bars and diners.
Music director Jon Gallo and his six piece orchestra brings the rich score packed with numbers reflecting American musical traditions that moves the story through emotional storms toward a sunny ending. VIOLET shows that everyone has their own surface "scars” and that beneath those scars is a human being just longing to be loved like everyone else. This production sings like a big musical downscaled for an intimate private party that you'll feel special for being an attendee. In the rousing interpretation of Tesori and Crawley's mix of soul, gospel and Southern rock, it is an uplifting moving musical. Next up at BAM is their summer musical HAIRSPRAY that opens July 6th.
Congratulation to Matthew McCoy and his production team, who will be honored March 25th at the SFBATCC Gala. Bay Area Musicals has been awarded the Annette Lust Emerging Talent Award by the SF Bay Area Critics Circle. The Annette Lust Emerging Talent Award is named for the late Dominican University professor and longtime Critics Circle member and is given to a promising new theatrical talent or an organization that has demonstrated early in its existence the potential to have a significant impact on Bay Area Theatre.
Bay Area Musical’s Presents
Music by Jeanine Tesori, Book & Lyrics by Brian Crawley
Directed by Dyan McBride
Movement by Matthew McCoy
Musical Director by Jon Gallo
Must close March 17, 2019
650 Geary Street
San Francisco, CA
VIOLET runs one-hundred minutes,
With no intermission.
Tickets may be purchased online at www.bamsf.org/violet
Photos by Ben Krantz.
The cast of VIOLET will feature Juliana Lustenader as “Violet,” Jon-David Randle as “Flick,” Jack O'Reilly as “Monty,” Miranda Long as “Young Vi,” Eric Nieman as “Father,” Shay Oglesby-Smith as “Old Lady/Hotel Hooker,” Clay David as “Preacher/Radio Singer/Bus Driver 1 & 4,” Tucker Gold as “Virgil/Billy Dean/Bus Driver 2/Radio Singer/Passenger/Waiter,” Andrea Laufer as “Music Hall Singer/Bus Passenger,” Kim Larson as “Leory/Radio Singer/Bus Driver 3/Passenger,” Tanika Baptiste as “Lula Buffington/Almeta (Landlady)/Passenger,” April Deutschle as “Ensemble,” Jourdán Olivier-Verdé as “Ensemble,” Elizabeth Jones as “Ensemble” and Danielle Philapilas as “Ensemble.” In addition to Ms. McBride, Mr. McCoy and Mr. Gallo, the creative team will include Genevieve Pabon as Stage Manager, Frank Cardinal as Assistant Stage Manager, Matthew McCoy as Set Designer, BrookeJennings as Costume Designer, Eric Johnson as Lighting Designer, Anton Hedman as Sound Designer, Clay David as Prop Designer, Jackie Dennis as Wig/Hair Designer, Taylor Gonzalez as Sound Board Operator and Wardrobe, Stewart Lyle and Technical Director and Cat Knight as Production Manager.