Clarence Brown Theatre begins its fall season with a production of “Violet,” with music by Jeanine Tesori and book and lyrics by Brian Crawley. Based on the short story, The Ugliest Pilgrim by the excellent writer, Doris Betts. As is the case with all excellent writing, the surface story here isn’t the only story as the main character takes a journey, both figurative and literal.
Violet, the lead character, played by both Charlotte Munson as the older Violet and Presley Keith, in flashbacks, as the younger version of the character. It is Presley Keith who first drew my attention as her startlingly strong and clear vocals come front-and-center early. Charlotte Munson provides a strong lead in the primary story as Violet, whose face has been scarred by an axe, is traveling via bus to Oklahoma where she believes an evangelist she admires will heal her and make her beautiful.
Fellow passengers in the form of Flick, a black soldier played by Jellani Alladin, an older lady, played by Johnna Allen and a young paratrouper, Monty, played by Christopher Ramirez help Violet explore the meaning of beauty, faith and exclusion. Her understanding of struggle is expanded beyond her own, small world as the group travels westward from North Carolina, with stops in Knoxville among other towns and cities.
The set is simple, though massive, with a wooden backdrop that serves all the scenes. While the story is strong, the music may be the star of the production. To a person, the characters have strong voices for a score which isn’t always easy to sing. Both Violets are stand-outs, of course, but the others are strong, as well. Backing for the vocalist is provided by a large, versatile ensemble with instrumentation to deftly switch musical genres, which they are required to do as the production progresses.
The official opening is tomorrow night at 7:30 PM and you can find tickets here. Urban Woman and I will be there and I’d love to see you, as well. The production runs through September 18.
Violet, of course, is just the first production of the season, with seven additional productions to follow. In addition to the traditional Christmas production of “A Christmas Carol,” plays for the season include “The Crucible,” and “This is Our Youth,” this fall. Spring productions include “Outside Mullingar,” “The Busy Body,” “Top Girls,” and “Around the World in Eighty Days.” Season tickets are available here.
It’s a big weekend all around, starting with First Friday and all that goes with that. The Farmers’ Market is a great way to start the first Saturday of college football and the temperatures are supposed to briefly dip. Join me and co-host JJ Pershing on WUTK at 10:00 AM Sunday morning for Knoxcentric: Powered by Inside of Knoxville where we’ll feature interviews with Courtney Woolard director for Theatre Knoxville Downtown’s next production [Title of Show] and their next production “The Guys,” about the days following the September 11 attacks to New York City. We’ll also have Michael Gill to talk about Alive After Five’s upcoming season, which also starts right away.
Whatever you decide to do, I hope you have a fun and safe weekend.