Review - Violet at Charing Cross Theatre
You can wait for ages for two Off-Broadway musicals set around a road trip to arrive in London, and then both arrive at once: Violet, originally premiered in 1997 (and more recently seen in a new Broadway version in 2014), has just received its professional London premiere at the Charing Cross Theatre; and in March the 2013 musical version of the 2006 film Little Miss Sunshine will come to the Arcola.
But Violet also marks another auspicious West End moment: with Caroline, or Change playing just around the corner at the Playhouse, it means that Jeanine Tesori - New York theatre's most prolific and accomplished female composer of musicals - has two shows playing in London simultaneously.
As if that wasn't cause for rejoicing enough, this version also stars Kaisa Hammarlund, who made such an impression last year in the London premiere of another Tesori musical Fun Home at the Young Vic, but was so heavily disguised that I barely recognised her.
This time, though immediately recognisable, she's playing against type by playing a woman who has a hideous scar; this is not represented by make-up but her palpable insecurity around this is projected entirely from within.
In the process, she continues to scale the heights of musical theatre glory. She's an astonishing actor and singer; this is an intense - and intensely moving - performance of a woman seeking a miracle cure from that physical disability, but finding a different kind of healing on her long bus journey to visit a church whose preacher has alleged powers to heal. As two suitors who variously court her on that journey, Matthew Harvey and Jay Marsh are also impressive.
The show, with Tesori's alternately ravishing and eclectic score that ranges from spiritual gospel numbers to soaring country-tinged ballads, has its own healing powers, providing deep sorrow and serious uplift by turns. Shuntaro Fujita's production in a totally transformed Charing Cross Theatre - rearranged as a traverse auditorium, and staged on a revolve that shifts perspectives constantly - provides a serious, thrilling night of deeply human theatre.
However, given that I, too, am only human, it would be fair to point out that my own bladder forced me out of the theatre 1 hour 55 minutes into the interval-less two-hour show. So definitely go to see it - but also make sure you don't drink anything before the show, and also go to the loo before it begins!
Violet tickets are available now.
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