Tuesday, December 5, 2017

REVIEW: Griffin Theatre's Violet Reverberates With Sounds of 60's South

Chi IL Live Shows On Our Radar:
Book & Lyrics by Brian Crawley
Music by Jeanine Tesori 
Directed by Scott Weinstein 
Music Direction by John Cockerill

November 26, 2017 – January 13, 2018 
at The Den Theatre
Griffin Theatre Company Launches 30th Anniversary Season

Griffin is off to a mythic start to their 30th anniversary season. Violet has the intimacy and connection of a small storefront production upstairs at The Den Theatre, yet it's remarkably big on sound, and this score is amazing. With an onstage band and power vocals, the show fills the space in a huge way, to tell a traveling tale of self discovery, healing, accidental friendships, adventure and the Grayhound bus ride that altered the future.

I thought it was an interesting choice to not use stage makeup to create Violet's huge facial scar from a childhood ax accident, since it was such a huge plot point, yet other characters' reactions to her face spoke volumes. It was even more apparent without special effects makeup that her scaring went deeper than the surface and the bullying and ostracism she'd lived with since childhood had been internalized and given her self consciousness and self hatred but also stubborn tenacity, emotional survival skills and a honed sense of humor.

The rock, folk and gospel score easily and effectively transports the audience to the 60's south where Violet is setting off on a pivotal journey that turns out quite different than she expected. Violet is heartbreaking, poignant, and stellar storytelling, reinforcing the idea that it's the travels not the destination that matter more and change one the most. Ultimately this is a unique love story and a celebration of the discovery of those who see past surface scars and skin color to truly see into each other's souls. 

I'm thrilled to see another show with a female protagonist portrayed both as a young teen and a young adult, and to hear this story from her perspective. Violet's story is a tale full of painful tragedy, loss, coping, and longing. Yet ultimately this is a tale of bravery, tenacity, friendship, acceptance, forgiveness and soul mates. Nicole Laurenzi as Violet and Maya Hlava (Young Violet) are stand outs, as is Will Lidke as Monty, and Stephen Allen as Flick. Brianna Buckley, and LaShera Moore are also quite impressive and a joy to hear.

Griffin Theatre Company is pleased to launch its 30th anniversary season with a revival of the Tony-nominated musical VIOLET, with book and lyrics by Brian Crawley (A Little Princess), music by Jeanine Tesori (Fun Home, Caroline, or Change), direction by Scott Weinstein (Ragtime, Bat Boy: The Musical) and music direction by John Cockerill (Bonnie & Clyde). VIOLET will play November 26, 2017 – January 13, 2018 at The Den Theatre's Upstairs Mainstage, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave. in Chicago. 

Single tickets and season subscriptions are currently available at or by calling (773) 697-3830. 

PHOTO CREDIT: The cast of Griffin Theatre Company’s production of VIOLET: (top, l to r) Nicole Laurenzi as Violet, Will Lidke as Monty, Stephen Allen as Flick, Matt Miles as Father and Maya Hlava (Young Violet) with (bottom, l to r) Connor Baty, Brianna Buckley, Nick Druzbanski, Sarah Hayes, Anthony Kayer and LaShera Moore.

Based on the short story "The Ugliest Pilgrim" by Doris Betts, this award-winning musical fuses a powerful rock, folk and gospel score. With a ticket, a suitcase and a heart full of expectation, Violet Karl, facially disfigured since childhood, boards a bus and travels across the deep south in 1964 to see if a faith healer can transform her life. Along the way, she forms unlikely friendships with her fellow passengers, who teach her about beauty, love and courage and that it's the journeys you take in life that help you discover who you are.

The production team for VIOLET includes: Lauren Nigri (scenic design), Izumi Inaba (costume design), Alexander Ridgers (lighting design), Keegan Bradac (sound design), Jamie Karas (properties design), Kasey Alfonso (choreographer), Catherine Allen (production manager), Laura McClain (asst. director) and Jon Ravenscroft (stage manager).

Dates: Previews: Sunday, November 26 at 3 pm, Monday, November 27 at 7:30 pm, Thursday, November 30 at 7:30 pm, Friday, December 1 at 7:30 pm and Saturday, December 2 at 7:30 pm.

Regular run: Thursday, December 7, 2017 – Saturday, January 13, 2018
Curtain Times: Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm; Sundays at 3pm. 

Please note: there will not be a performance on Sunday, December 24 (Christmas Eve) or Sunday, December 31 (New Year’s Eve); there will be an added performance on Saturday, January 13 at 3 pm.

Tickets: Previews $30. Regular run $42. Students, seniors & veterans $37 ($25 previews). Group discount are available for groups of ten or more. Single tickets and season subscriptions are currently available at or by calling (773) 697-3830.

About the Creative Team
Scott Weinstein (Director) is an award-winning director whose upcoming work includes Sex With Strangers (Cardinal Stage), Million Dollar Quartet (Phoenix Theatre) and Frost/Nixon (Redtwist Theatre). Favorite Chicago credits include Rock of Ages (Drury Lane Theatre), a new chamber version of Ragtime, Titanic (Jeff Nomination – Best Director, Best Musical) and Bat Boy: The Musical (Jeff Nomination – Best Director) all with Griffin Theatre; Rent (Theo Ubique, Jeff Award – Best Director & Best Musical); She Kills Monsters (Steppenwolf Theatre Garage Rep); and Seussical (Chicago Shakespeare Theater). Favorite New York and regional credits include Million Dollar Quartet (Fingerlakes Musical Theatre Festival); Baristas (New York International Fringe Festival) Knights of The Sales Office and Murder For Two (Adirondack Theatre Festival). He is a company member with Redtwist Theatre where he has directed Circle Mirror Transformation, All-American and The Drawer Boy. Scott is the Associate Director for the National Tour, Las Vegas, Chicago and Norwegian Cruise Line productions of Million Dollar Quartet and directed the first regional production currently running at the Lawrence Welk Theatre. Scott is a proud graduate of Northwestern University and member of SDC.

John Cockerill (Music Director) is a collaborative pianist, vocal coach and music director. Recent credits include: Bonnie & Clyde (Kokandy Productions). María de Buenos Aires (Des Moines Metro Opera), Xanadu (American Theatre Company), and High Fidelity (Refuge Theatre Project). He was a featured pianist on the premiere recording of Ross Crean’s opera, The Great God Pan (Navona Records, 2017), and he’ll be joining Chicago Fringe Opera for their upcoming season of As One and The Great God Pan. 

The Griffin Theatre Company's 2017/2018 Premiere Season Sponsors are Michael and Mona Heath.

The Griffin Theatre Company is a Blue Star Theater and is proud to support our military enlisted and veterans. 

About Griffin Theatre Company
Established in 1988 and celebrating its 30th season, the mission of the Griffin Theatre Company is to create extraordinary and meaningful theatrical experiences for both children and adults by building bridges of understanding between generations that instill in its audience an appreciation of the performing arts. Through artistic collaboration the Griffin Theatre Company produces literary adaptations, original work and classic plays that challenge and inspire, with wit, style and compassion for the audience.

The Griffin Theatre Company is the recipient of 115 Joseph Jefferson Award nominations for theater excellence in Chicago. The Griffin was the repeat winner of the 2016 Jeff Award for “Best Production of a Play” for London Wall having won the same award in 2015 for its production of Men Should Weep.

The Griffin Theatre Company is partially supported by the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency.

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