Review: “Violet” at Foothill Music Theatre (***)

by Otto Coelho III

Reviewed by a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle.

“It’s about the journey, not the destination.” It’s a line that has been repeated to me many times during my life, and the journey is at the heart of the musical “Violet,” currently running at Foothill Music Theatre. The musical, based on the short story “The Ugliest Pilgrim” by Doris Betts, tells the story of a young woman, tragically injured by an accident with an axe blade at age twelve. In the year 1964, she journeys by bus to Tulsa, Oklahoma to visit a faith healer she hopes will rid her of the scar on her face. Violet’s dreams exceed the limitations that her scar puts on her. She feels this pilgrimage and healing will result in her living her best life. First, however, she has to get there.

Kaylee Miltersen is wonderful in the title role of Violet. She captures every nuance of her character incredibly well and has a lovely, expressive voice. Brad Satterwhite’s Monty is likeable, even when we don’t like the character very much, and Satterwhite sings well. Thomas Times is good as Flick, but had a few tuning problems on opening night. Melissa Dufort is magical as Lula Buffington, the preacher’s soloist. Would it not have been disruptive, I would have given her a standing ovation after “Raise Me Up.” She’s a powerhouse. James Schnott is terrific in his roles as Violet’s faith healer and the honky tonk soloist. Sheridan Stewart played Young Violet with a huge dollop of earnestness (Stewart alternates in the part with Sofia Oberg), and Ray D’Ambrosio and Erica Racz are great as Violet’s father and the Hotel Hooker, respectively.

Director Milissa Carey makes excellent use of scenic designer Yosuke Soi’s sets. Amanda Ku conducts the wonderful musicians as well as playing keyboards in addition to her musical direction. In addition to Miltersen, the strength of this production is when the company sings together—which is a credit to vocal director Debra Lambert. The harmonies are brilliant, and they sing with one voice. It sounds like an oxymoron, but it’s true. The choreography by Stacey Reed works very, very well. Lily McLeod’s lighting is effective in helping to set location, mood, and tone. The collaboration and cooperation of the entire production team are evident in this show.

Excellent performances and a fine creative team cannot obscure the fact that the script is flawed and could certainly benefit from some trimming, especially in the first act.

Still, all in all, Foothill Music Theatre’s “Violet” is like any journey: There are a few bumps in the road, and it may take awhile, but you eventually get where you need to go. And it delivers a powerful message: that the most painful scars are not always the most visible ones.

“Violet” continues at Foothill Music Theatre at the Lohman Theatre on the Foothill College campus through August 7th. For further information, click here.

Rating: *** (For an explanation of Theatrestorm’s rating scale, click here.)

“Violet” Music by Jeanine Testori. Lyrics and Book by Brian Crawley. Based on “The Ugliest Pilgrim” by Doris Betts. Produced by Foothill Music Theatre. Director: Milissa Carey. Music Director: Amanda Ku. Vocal Director: Debra Lambert. Choreographer: Stacey Reed. Scenic Designer: Yosuke Soi. Costume Designer: Y. Sharon Peng. Lighting Designer: Lily McLeod. Sound Designer: Andrew Heller. Specialty Properties Designers: Karen Leonard, Aaron Hurley.


Young Violet: Sheridan Stewart/Sofia Oberg.Violet: Kaylee Miltersen. Billy Dean. Bus Passenger. Radio Singer: Skyler Riordan. Preacher/Radio Soloist. Bus Driver: James Schott. Old Lady: Barbara Heninger. Flick: Thomas Times. Hotel Hooker/Bus Passenger: Erica Racz. Landlady/Bus Passenger/Gospel Trio: Nique Eagen. Music Hall Singer/Bus Passenger: Sydney Reiko Bamberg. Virgil/Waiter/Bus Driver: Matt Tipton. Lula Buffington/Bus Passenger: Melissa Dufort. Bus Passenger/Gospel Trio: Claire Freeman. Bus Passenger/Gospel Trio: Aishy Panwar. Bus Passenger/Radio Singer/Bus Driver: Jason Morley. Monty: Brad Satterwhite. Father: Ray D’Ambrosio.

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