Charing Cross Theatre
Reviewed – 21st January 2019
“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.
Reviewed by Joseph Prestwich
Photography by Scott Rylander
Charing Cross Theatre until 6th April
Previously reviewed at this venue:
Final casting is today announced for the world première of a major new musical, “The Braille Legacy”, the thrilling, true, inspirational and epic story of Louis Braille, a young blind boy who wanted the same chance in life as those who see and ended up improving the lives of millions of blind people around the world.
It is being directed by acclaimed director Thom Southerland (”Ragtime”, “Titanic”, “Grey Gardens”, “Death Takes A Holiday”) and will première at Charing Cross Theatre (Artistic Director Thom Southerland, Managing Director Steven M. Levy) from Monday 10 April to Saturday 24 June.
Joining previously announced Olivier Award nominated Jérôme Pradon (West End credits include the UK premiere of the musical “Women On The Verge of a Nervous Breakdown”, Guillaume in “Martin Guerre”, Chris in “Miss Saigon”, Javert in “Les Miserables”, and Judas in the Emmy-winning video of “Jesus Christ Superstar”) are:
Jason Broderick (“Godspell” UK tour, “Anna Nicole – The Opera” Royal Opera House); Tate-Eliot Drew (“My Lands Shore” Ye Olde Rose N Crown Theatre); Will Haswell (“Jersey Boys” West End, Pinocchio in ‘Shrek the Musical” UK tour); Lottie Henshall (“Doctors” BBC1); Sarah-Marie Maxwell (“She Loves Me” Menier Chocolate Factory, “Top Hat” UK tour); Matthew McDonald (“Death Takes a Holiday” Charing Cross Theatre, “Allegro” Southwark Playhouse); Kate Milner-Evans (“Showboat” West End, Carlotta in “The Phantom of the Opera”); Janet Mooney (West End includes “Les Miserables” and “Love Never Dies”); Ceili O’Connor (“Grand Hotel” Southwark Playhouse, “Evita” UK tour); Michael Remick (West End includes “Dirty Dancing” and “The Sound of Music”); Ashley Stillburn (Corrado in “Death Takes A Holiday” Charing Cross Theatre, “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Les Miserables” West End); Jack Wolfe (is making his professional stage debut as Louis Braille); and a child cast featuring Guillermo Bedward, Thomas Brown, Tallulah Byrne, Beau Cripps, Ilan Galkoff, Honey Harrison-Maw, Eliz Hassan, Megan Haynes, Zachary Loonie, Mimi Slinger, Ophir Fifi Tal, William Thompson.
“The Braille Legacy” is the story of a revolution and an heroic fight for independence, with the themes of difference, freedom, hope and love and the triumph of human values over adversity.
In Paris in the 19th century, blind people were victims of profound discrimination. Louis Braille, a bright young mind with a mad dream, arrives at the Royal Institute of Blind Youth, searching for the same chance as everyone else: to be free and independent. But he soon discovers that people and things aren’t always what they first seem. By sheer determination and courage he stumbles upon something revolutionary: a simple idea, a genius invention, a legacy. Two hundred years ago, Louis Braille changed the world by inventing the tactile system of communication, the Braille alphabet, liberating the “People of the Night” and introducing literacy, knowledge and culture to a people who were otherwise trapped. It was their journey into the light.
“The Braille Legacy” has an original French Book and Lyrics by Sébastien Lancrenon, Music by Jean-Baptiste Saudray, with an English translation by Ranjit Bolt. Music Supervision and Orchestrations are by Simon Lee.
The full creative team is: Director: Thom Southerland, Music Supervision and Orchestrations: Simon Lee, Musical Director Toby Higgins, Choreographer Lee Proud, Set Designer: Tim Shortall, Lighting Designer Tim Lutkin, Costume Designer: Jonathan Lipman, Sound Designer: Andrew Johnson, Casting: Stephen Crockett at Grindrod Casting, Children’s Casting: Jo Hawes, Music Preparation: Simone Manfredini, Associate Director Rupert Hands.
The Braille Legacy Ltd by arrangement with
Colbert Entertainment Ltd present
The Braille Legacy
Monday 10 April to Saturday 24 June
Monday – Saturday at 7.30pm
Matinees Wednesday at 2.30pm
and Saturday at 3.00pm
Saturday 27 May at 3.00pm
Monday 29 May at 7.30pm
Premium seats £39.50
Premium seats are best stalls locations,
and include a programme and a glass of
London WC2N 6NL