I went two whole weeks without posting about theater. I mean, I posted about a concert, but come on, I gave you the break you needed, right? So to make up for lost time, have a doubleheader post about two very different musicals.
First, Violet. It closes on August 10, so if this sounds interesting, get thee to the (virtual) box office, and if you’re between the ages of 18 and 35, sign up for HipTix and get the $25 tickets.
Violet is a revival, but this is the show’s first time on Broadway. It almost made it back in 1997, when it opened, but the reviews weren’t great and it didn’t transfer. At the Theater Talk my friend and I heard before the show, we learned that the composer of Violet, Jeanine Tesori, is now the artistic director for Encores Off-Center. I’ve never gone to an Off-Center show, but I’ve seen the regular Encores! shows, and really enjoyed their production of Tick, tick . . . BOOM! a few weeks ago, so I’ll have to check it out. Both programs involve putting on short-run staged readings of musicals which don’t get performed often.
Anyway, when Tesori became artistic director, people suggested that she stage Violet, but she felt that would be weird. They convinced her to do a one-off reading, though, and apparently the energy in the room was so fantastic that they knew there was something here. And then it came to Broadway, with star Sutton Foster in the title role.
Violet is a young woman traveling on a Greyhound bus in 1964. Facially disfigured in a childhood accident (though the scar is not shown), Violet is going to see a televangelist so she can be healed. Violet is the story of her travels, of the people she meets, of life on the cusp of the civil rights movement – and the story of the girl she was, and her relationship with her late father. The music is lovely, the staging was colorful and fun, the performances were stellar, and the story made me think. I had a few quibbles with how things wrapped up, which I’d be happy to discuss with anyone who wants to, but I’m so glad I went!
A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder is a completely different show. Tongue-in-cheek, over-the-top, too-clever-for-its-own-good – all are apt descriptions. At the show’s opening, Monty, the Earl, is in jail for murder, and is writing his confession. He starts at the beginning, back when he was a poor boy whose mother has just died and a stranger comes to tell him that there are only about eight people between him and his relative, the earl.
And Monty starts thinking. So you can guess where things start to go. The relatives in the line of succession, men and women alike, are all played by Jefferson Mays. His quick costume changes and character changes are fascinating to watch, and each is distinctive – and usually, but not always, a terrible person. I rooted for Monty even as I was appalled at his actions. There’s love, and there’s murder, and there are funny lines and scenes and songs. There were even a few twists and turns I didn’t see coming. The set, which included a stage-upon-a-stage, was gorgeous, and while my friend and I had to lean forward a little from our seats in the front row of the balcony, we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly.
Since Gentleman’s Guide won the Tony this year for Best Musical, it should run for a while yet. If you’re trying to decide between this and Violet, go see Violet, and then go see Monty murder some people later in the summer. You won’t regret either.
I have a few more tickets in my future – including Cabaret in September, and plans to see King Lear in Central Park in the next few weeks – but I’m always looking for suggestions. What shows have you seen lately that you’d recommend?