Presented by Davine Interventionz Productions
Reviewed 22nd February 2017
Two beautifully painted scenes, representing the big skies and empty lands of the American south, flank the proscenium. The proscenium itself is faced with fluted galvo. As we walk into the theatre, a lone woman in a dress and cardigan sits motionless in a plain wooden chair. She looks towards the back of the stage, and never at us. The 9-member band is housed on rostra at the back of the stage, in full view. When a solo banjo begins the show, you get the idea. It’s 1964 in the Deep South, America’s civil rights movement is gaining momentum, and Violet is going on a Greyhound bus from her home in Spruce Pine, North Carolina, to Tulsa, Oklahoma.
David Gauci has directed this spare and heartfelt musical with care and affection. Its trajectory is straight to the heart, via Jeanine Tesori’s remarkable music and the excellent acting of the cast. The story is one of rejection, redemption and healing; as a child, Violet sustained a disfiguring facial wound when the head of the axe her father was using accidentally flew off its handle and hit her. Since then, she has always felt herself to be an outcast. Having heard of a televangelist in Tulsa who has a healing ministry, she is convinced that he can heal her, remove her scars, and even make her beautiful. On the journey she undertakes, the people she meets enable her to grow, change, and be healed in a number of ways.
As Violet, Casmira Hambledon is remarkable. She combines sincerity, abrasive independence and vulnerability, making Violet’s journey both distressing and engaging. Whether speaking or singing, Hambledon’s voice is a joy. She manages a fine range of tonal qualities with nuanced care. Fahad Farooque (Flick) and Mitchell Smith (Monty) as the two soldiers who join the bus ride and befriend Violet, both bring well-trained singing voices and good acting skills to their work. They need to be fallible and believable; thanks to their work, we empathise with them both. Eloise Q. Valentine (Young Violet) is consistently clear, strong and focussed; Adam Goodburn plays Violet’s father with a gentler touch than I expected, while Andrew Crispe’s Televangelist was everything you’d ever expect.
There’s a great gospel choir in full fig, robes a-flapping. An exquisite male trio, accompanied by guitar, sing Who’ll be the one?. There are moments throughout this show when the whole company’s choral work is on display – and it’s beautifully balanced. Although the story is engaging, thanks to good direction and fine acting, it’s the ensemble as a whole which glows.
Musical Director, Peter Johns led his band of excellent musicians in the Gospel, Memphis blues, bluegrass and R’n’B of Tesori’s score. Because the music serves to anchor the action in a believable location, I was hoping for a slightly dirtier swamp-blues sound. That’ll probably happen as the season continues.
I saw this show in New York with Sutton Foster in the lead role, and was much moved by its brilliance. I was no less moved by Davine Interventionz’s production; it stands up to the Broadway one for sheer heart. I strongly recommend that you get to see this. It’s a gem.
Reviewed by Pat. H. Wilson
Rating out of 5: 5
Venue: Theatre One at Star Theatres
Season: 22nd – 25th February, 28th February, 1st – 4th March 2017
Duration: 2 hours 30 minutes
Tickets: $32 – $36