By Kylie Jue
Take a journey from North Carolina to Tulsa, Okla., and wrestle with the complexity of human relationships, our obsession with physical appearance and the power of religion — all while on a Marguerite shuttle. For this weekend only, At the Fountain Theatricals presents the Stanford community with “Violet: The Musical,” “the travel musical that actually travels.”
Set in the South in 1964, “Violet” tells the story of a woman whose face was scarred by an axe wound when she was just a child. Despising her appearance and treated as an outcast in her town, Violet (Arianna Claire Vogel ’14) travels cross-country to see a televangelist preacher who she believes will heal her. Along the way, she meets two military men: the sweet-talking Monty (Louis Lagalante ’15) and Flick (Robert Poole ’15), an African American soldier. The trio’s relationships with one another develop throughout the show, and the issues of beauty and identity that Violet encounter remain poignant and relevant even in today’s world.
The show begins with the boarding of Bus 322 in front of Memorial Auditorium. But once the shuttle takes off, it is easy to forget the unconventional location of the performance and become enraptured in Violet’s story. Moving seamlessly between musical numbers and scenes, the actors tell a story that pulls viewers into the world of the South in 1964. Sitting side-by-side with cast members places the audience directly into the show and, as a result, watching “Violet” becomes an active, full-body experience of traveling, partying and interacting with the characters themselves.
Around the halfway point, the entire show relocates to Toyon Hall, and, with the exception of the final scene, the rest of the musical moves between different areas within the main hall. Even without professional lighting or sound, the transitions between scenes worked nicely as the audience follows the characters from room to room, literally participating in a party or sitting in a church service. Director Sammi Cannold ’16 has succeeded in her goal of “communicat[ing] to theatergoers that they matter and are part of a greater social fabric when they experience performance.”
The actors not only manage props and perform choreography on a moving bus but also maintain tremendous vocal balance throughout the entire musical. In a small space with many people and busy streets as background noise, projection becomes vital, and each singer can always be heard. Songs involving the entire chorus have immense power and impressive blends for a small cast, and noteworthy performances include duets between Violet and young Violet (Cayla Pettinato ’16), Poole’s resounding rendition of “Let It Sing” and Vogel’s hauntingly beautiful “Lay Down Your Head.”
Overall, key choices regarding scene elimination, stage direction and audience interaction have allowed At Fountain Theatricals to transform “Violet: The Musical” into an unparalleled theatrical performance. Poole’s and Vogel’s standout performances as Flick and Violet make the characters even more relatable, and, with the intimate environment formed among the audience and the characters, it is no surprise that several scenes evoked tangible emotional responses from viewers. The hour-and-45-minute musical keeps the audience on the edge of their seats or, in many cases, on their toes.
“Violet: The Musical” explores important questions not only about our societal values but also about the way we approach theater. Audience members do not simply watch “Violet”; they experience it.