By Bob Evans
A story of faith, self-esteem, hopes, and mis-guided expectations characterize the musical-drama, “Violet,” now playing at Olathe Civic Theatre Association through Feb. 25.
Harsh and cold weather during opening weekend quelled the normal audience support for OCTA musicals, but with more temperate conditions, expect sold out performances. With a cast of dynamic performers, expect chilling vocal performances and strong acting to support the dramatic story.
The story centers on Violet’s life before, but mostly after an unfortunate accident involving Violet, her father, and an axe. While chopping wood, the axe head came loose, hit Violet’s cheek and nose, and resulted in a massive scar she carried from that time onward. The scar destroyed any self-confidence Violet possessed, leaving her vulnerable to bullying, name-calling, and being shunned by others.
Her disfiguration, caused her to feel as unclean as Biblical lepers. She felt shunned by society and her peers. Violet felt ashamed of her appearance and guilty–even though she had no control over the accident. Add to that, Violet’s mother died, leaving Violet to be raised on a mountain top in North Carolina by her father, a rugged, strict, back-hills farmer.
Seeking a cure for her unfortunate disfiguration, Violet believes that a faith healer in Tulsa and her fervent belief can erase her scar and restore her face. But, as soon as the audience learns Violet’s plan, they know the outcome. There is no spoiler here. The man of faith does not hold the spiritual key to perform miracles and he’s all about performance and showmanship.
Violet, stars Larissa Briley as the adult Violet and Bridget Walsh as young Violet. Both deliver strong vocal performances. Briley, gives a touching innocence to the adult Violet as she clings to the notion of healing by faith. Her situation is compounded by the strong performances by Michael Scahill as he father who shares her pain and Matt Richardson as the phony healer who is powerless to meet her needs. Both men display their powerful voices and give worthy characters.
Two other men who let their vocals speak for their talent, Nathaniel Rasson and Austin Stang compete for Violet’s affection. Rasson is charmingly subtle in his approach to gain Violet’s attention and let his affection for her grow, while Stang, as the smug suitor looking for quick gratification, create a nice triangular grouping as the audience roots for Rasson’s character and against Stang’s. Both men portray strong characters and should be seen in many more KC productions.
While those are the main characters and they all perform fantastic vocal solos, two others in the cast give equally stunning vocal performances. Pay close attention to Renee Blinn and Ashley Jones. Each performs a solo that allows their vocal expertise to shine.
For “Violet” a very simple looking but versatile set brings some changing looks to the OCTA stage. The set allows different scenes to be changed with no break in the action. Costuming also gives the show a nice texture as well as the sound design with major players using a microphone so that all lyrics and dialogue are distinguishable. Sound has been a problem in past productions, but not this one. Music direction by Kevin Bogan and a score played by a talented band adds a richer texture as well to the show.
OCTA’s production of Violet ushers in a new-era for the community theatre group that has just finished some major renovation with new paint, a refurbished floor, new carpeting and more. The facelift added character to the building and completes stage one of the building’s planned restoration. Phase II will target the exterior of the building.
The Violet cast is: Renee Blinn, Larissa Briley, Alyson Golladay, Tyler Hileman, Ashley Jones, Mark Edward McNeal, Matt Pollock, Nathaniel Rasson, Joy Richardson, Matt Richardson, Michael Scahill, Austin Stang, Bridget Walsh. The production team is: Julie Ewing, director; Kevin Bogan, musical director; Betsy Sexton, stage manager; Sarah Bergeson, assistant stage manager; Annette Cook, costume designer; Joshua Finch, sound design; Ken Schmidt, set designer; Cheryl Singers, set construction foreman; Zoe Spangler, lighting designer; Brittany Becker, sound board operator; Aidan Lewis, light board operator; Betsy Sexton props. The band is: Kevin Bogan, conductor, keyboard; Todd Gregory-Gibbs, keyboard; Kim Ico, violin; A.J. Bonci, guitar; Alan Manning, bass; Frank Annecchini, bass; Joel McCoy, drums.
“Violet” continues weekends at the Olathe Civic Theatre Association. Tickets can be purchased online at the OCTA website or by phone. The musical production continues through Feb. 25.
Tags: Olathe Civic Theater Association, OCTA, “Violet”, Kansas City Theater, Kansas City Performing Arts, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment