“enjoyable at times but requires more attentive storytelling”
A competent and confident cast just about save this somewhat tepid yet redemptive road-trip musical. Jeanine Tesori’s Southern States inspired score, expertly mixing country, blues rock ‘n’ roll and gospel influences, is ultimately let down by a middling script and unfocused lyrics.
Violet (Kaisa Hammarlund) sets out on a Greyhound bus from backwoods Spruce Pine, North Carolina, to Tulsa, hoping to get her facial scar ‘healed’ by a well-known tele-preacher (Kenneth Avery-Clark). An accident with a loose axe head in childhood left Violet both physically and emotionally scarred, meaning relationships formed along the way with soldiers Monty (Matthew Harvey) and Flick (Jay Marsh) are fraught and conflicted. We can all guess where the story goes from here.
Sadly, it is Violet’s story that brings this production down. Despite being just over twenty years old, the gender politics of this musical feel dated and discomforting. Beauty is found, of course, within – but also with a little help from a heterosexual male telling you you’re beautiful. Violet’s experiences of rejection are compared with Flick’s as a racially segregated black male. Furthermore, we never quite get a chance to learn why we should care about Violet’s story. We haven’t learnt anything new about impossible standards of beauty, nor about mid-sixties American culture. Why revive this now?
The musical numbers are varied and enjoyable, but forgettable. “Raise Me Up”, a heartfelt gospel tune belted out by Lula (Simbi Akande), stands out, and yet even this is immediately reduced to a gag about Clark’s preacher’s incorrigibly fake routine. Shuntaro Fujita’s direction is often awkward, with actors left at times to simply stand and sing at each other. Fujita does manage to blend Violet’s childhood memories into the present-day action well. These moments, in fact, prove some of the most effective parts of the production, giving Violet’s beleaguered character some crucial context.
Despite reuniting some of the artistic talent behind last year’s outstanding ‘Fun Home’, this musical lacks the emotional turbulence, coherence and charm of that production. ‘Violet’ is certainly enjoyable at times but requires more attentive storytelling and better lyrics if it wishes to set its sights on the West End.
“A likeness to Hamilton comes to mind for the opening number, It’s A Myth, with its element of a sung/spoken narrative”
The relationship between mother and daughter can be quite a complicated one. Even more tricky to navigate when you are both immortal Gods. In new pop/rock musical Mythic by Marcus Stevens (book/lyrics) and Oran Eldor (music/orchestrations), this is just the case. A wittily-written, modern twist on thousand year old Greek myths, turns the Gods into rock stars, Hollywood royalty, It-girls and power-mad politicians – the type of celebrities that we are consumed by in the 21st-century. Mythic is a fun-filled, energetically infectious show that gives old tales a fresh retelling.
Demeter, Goddess of the Earth and harvest, has spent the last thousand years exiled from Olympus, where the other Gods hang out, due to having such boring, inadequate powers. Now, living mainly among mortals and her harvest nymphs, she has come to appreciate her life away from the party-going, drama-filled, celebrity culture of the Gods. Her daughter Persephone, however, doesn’t see it that way. She feels suffocated by boredom, living the life of a recluse. Spending her time reading magazines about the other Gods, she daydreams how the other half lives. She wants to find her own path. One day Persephone’s had enough and decides to gatecrash Zeus’ party on Mount Olympus. After bumping into party girl Aphrodite, she finds her way into the heart of the celebrations. It doesn’t take long before she has caught the eye of the bad boy of Gods, Hades, a misunderstood soul, who inadvertently traps her in the Underworld. Mythic turns into a tale of finding yourself, the endurance of a mother’s love, and inner courage that speaks to both ancient and modern times.
Georgie Westall as Persephone is certainly one to watch for the future, showing real personality yet truthfulness within her delivery. Much can be said the same for Daniella Bowen playing her mother Demeter, whose comic timing, particularly in the song What Mother’s Have to Do, comes across natural and unforced. Strong performances are executed from the whole cast. Even the ensemble are given individual moments to shine and stand out, which is rare.
A simple yet effective use of set and costumes, designed by Lee Newby, offers an amalgamation of ancient influences with modern-day edginess that helps to define the shows theme of reinvention.
The songs that feature definitely help to drive the story forward rather than bringing it to a halt. They aren’t the most memorable tunes in the world, but nevertheless, there most certainly isn’t any that seem weak, and it enables the cast to show off their belting chops. Stevens’ book and lyrics are laden with chuckle worthy material, even if lyrics at times are simplistic and one-dimensional. A likeness to Hamilton comes to mind for the opening number, It’s A Myth, with its element of a sung/spoken narrative, regaling the history of the Greek Gods.
All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining new musical that has the potential to move onto bigger venues and reach larger audiences.