CHARING CROSS THEATRE
(formerly the New Players Theatre)
Ends 6th April 2019.
1964. Somewhere between North Carolina and Oklahoma, we find Violet, a young
woman who was facially disfigured as a child. She hopes her life savings will
bring her a miracle halfway across the country. Reflecting on her childhood, and
shaped by the reactions of the people she encounters, Violet embarks on a
life-changing personal journey.
A multi award-winning musical with Music by Jeanine Tesori (Tony Award winner
for Best Original Score with Lisa Kron for Fun Home, and Tony-nominated for
Caroline, or Change and Shrek the Musical), and Book & Lyrics by Brian Crawley
(The Little Princess), it gets its UK premiere in an international co-production
that will later see it transfer to Tokyo.
Creative team: Directed by Shuntaro Fujita, Choreography by Cressida Carré, Set
Design by Morgan Large, Costume by Jonathan Lipman, Lighting by Howard Hudson,
Sound by Andrew Johnson, Music Director Dan Jackson, Associate Music Director
Chris Ma. Associate Director Abigail Pickard-Price Production Supervisior Thom
Producers: Steven M. Levy and Vaughan Williams for Charing Cross Theatre
Productions Limited in a co-production with Umeda Arts Theater Co, Ltd., Osaka,
PLEASE NOTE THAT LATECOMERS CANNOT BE ADMITTED.
Taking the analogy of a Greyhound bus ride from Spruce Pine to Tulsa –
nowhere to redemption – Brian Crawley’s book and lyric (based on “The Ugliest
Pilgrim” by Doris Betts) have a facially scarred young woman travel in search of
a TV Evangelist to remove her disfigurement and restore her life. On her
journey, she encounters two soldiers and the darker side of life in Beale Street
(good singer in Angelica Allen, though) and the boarding houses (proprietor,
rightly with attitude, Simbi Akande) of Memphis.
Despite being a backwoods country girl, heroine Violet (Kaisa Hammarlund) is no
fool. Raised by her widower father (Keiron Crook), this is a witty, cunning,
Poker-playing, liquor drinking young woman of strongest mind... yet vulnerable
in her many emotional and physical scars.
These emotions, and her back-story, are processed intriguingly by use of her
younger self. Young Violet (Amy Mepham, in a performance of stillness and
patient detail belying that this is her professional debut) is present when
needed, sometimes leaving the stage in disgust at a situation, or interacting
with adult Violet to express simultaneously several layers of feeling.
Feelings are the heartbeat of the show, the key idea the perfect simplicity that
if you believe in your own value, all else will follow. This is explored through
interactions with fellow passengers – a mother headed to her family (Janet
Mooney – shame she had to turn to prostitution in the end, she’s rather a good
actor, oh well), and then black Sergeant Flick (Jay Marsh) and soldier Monty
This duo, who clearly enjoy their double-act, both fall for Violet. One gives us
unwavering warmth and wisdom even in confusion as he understands the lot of a
fellow outsider. The other is careless with hearts and demonstrates impressive
expertise handling the pivotal moments of the show.
At journey’s end, Preacher (Kenneth Avery-Clark, oozing insincere charisma yet
avoiding nicely parody) has feet of clay, and a neat line in acolyte (Leroy –
James Gant) and singers. Some of the best (Cressida Carre) choreography also
lies in his television church.
Smaller flash-backs have great beauty, a perfectly staged (director Shuntaro
Fujita) card game, “Luck Of The Draw” gives Keiron Crook a shining moment; a
childhood interaction with Billy Dean (Danny Michaels) is a heart-breaker and
Most of all, though, this is Kaisa Hammarlund’s evening. A clever decision to
keep the scarring internal allows us to concentrate on a remarkable performance
requiring her to be on stage and singing for much of the evening. From the first
scene we are totally engaged with her tale, hoping for her success. The mark of
both a great performance and a well-written production.
The absolute beauty of this musical is that having followed the story to its
destination, the final scenes deliver bountiful intellectual and emotional
rewards to all of us paying close attention to the entire 100 minute non-stop
Seldom flagging, and only the odd jarring lyric couplet to fault, the gloriously
lit (Howard Hudson) ending on an almost bare (Morgan Large) set is as powerful
as that of “Les Misérables;” signing off a dazzlingly, movingly, truthful night.
Arguably the most emotionally intelligent musical in London, if you enjoyed
Jeanine Tesori’s “Caroline or Change” and “Fun Home,” this is a must.
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