Once again, Producer/Director Martin Friedman and his artistic team, have created a beautiful musical production at Lakeland Civic Theatre. Coming off the heals of stellar musical productions such as Next to Normal and Light in the Piazza, Friedman nails it once again with a fantabulous interpretation of the musical Violet, with music by Jeanine Tesori, libretto by Brian Crawley,and based on the short story “The Ugliest Pilgrim” by Doris Betts. It tells the story of a young disfigured woman who embarks on a journey by bus from her farm in Spruce Pine, North Carolina, all the way to Tulsa, Oklahoma in order to be healed by an animated evangelical preacher.
When I think of flowers, and the beautiful colors that permeate a fantastic floral arrangement, there is no doubt that when violets are present, they stand out to me as an incredibly vibrant presence. That would be an understatement, when it pertains to the performance of Neely Gevaart** as Violet. Among a fantastic arrangement of talented actors, Gevaart is a revelation. Her beautiful interpretation of this damaged and emotionally wrought character is truly a gift. From the moment she sings, you realize this is going to be good, really good. Every actor has a moment in his or her career, where all the planets align, and a supernova is born. This is such a case. Her voice is spectacular in this role, and transports everyone within earshot to personally connect with this heart wrenching, and eventually, heart warming story. Her acting is sublime. It all combines for one hell of a performance, as she makes this role her own and incomparable in my eyes. It is hers. She owns it.
As Flick and Monty, Eugene Sumlin and Eric Fancher**, remind me of the tortoise and the hare. Each pursuing Violet in different ways. Sumlin more tempered and slowly moving and opening up emotionally to obtain his true desire. Fancher, a power keg of sexuality, who is often a missile without a tracking device, more like a notching device. Both actors portray excellent true characters that are charged with a desire to be with Violet. Sumlin displays great execution in his delivery and journey. His more tempered voice, is full of emotion and matches his more subtle approach. Fancher is a hot bed of fiery vocals and a strong sense of center and passion, and fierce stage presence.
Jade McGee as Young Violet was a delight. Beautiful in stature and voice, she created a lovely fragile and poetic character. She handled the vocals like a pro.(This role is split with another actress, Emily Kenville, playing alternate dates). A great surprise in this production is Daniel Simpson portraying the Father. Where the hell has this guy been? Simpson has an engaging voice, which is emotionally charged. Adding in his very honest characterization, his performance is a beautiful addition to the evening. Robert Pierce kills it as the Preacher. With high hair and promenade steps for days, he whirls a feverish pitch in his vocals, but then takes us to a more sober and incredibly effective reveal. Great work. Once again, Nicole Sumlin* takes us to church and back again as she provides Lula, the lead vocalist of the Preacher’s choir, a voice of heavenly gold and rocks the house. Bernadette Hisey works the Old Lady bit to perfection. Great choices on funny and serious moments.
The rest of the ensemble is terrific. Clear focus, strong vocals, and cemented characters.Those talented actors are Stephanie Harden, Will Sanborn (charming bus driver, and attention to detail like checking on the passengers in the rear view mirror) , Adam Edward Shimko, Sara Danielle Chapman (who brings some Lady Day realness to her solo), Ashley Bossard, Andrea Belser, Joanna May Hunkins (playing a waitress I would not tip), Sharron MacPherson Foxx, Antoinette Kula, Alicia O’Neill, and Joseph Alvey.
Director Martin Friedman is fabulous. There, I said it. Musical Director Jordan Cooper brings his unique musical talents to the forefront once again, with kick ass direction and execution. Sound Designer R. Eric Simna provided an excellent balance. Costume Designer Tesia Benson rocked the Violet world with great choices and looks. Scenic and Lighting Designer Trad A Burns, once again brings incredible originality and conceptual brilliance to the boards. His Birch tree bordered set, with a wooden racked stage provides all that is necessary to frame the story being told. Production Stage Manager Nichole Venci called a great show. Additional Choreography provided by mulit-talented Katie Nabors.
This is a beautiful ride. So, take the ride to Lakeland Civic Theatre and experience a great production, and vibrant performance of a most gorgeous Violet.
*Courtesy of Actor’s Equity Association
** EMC: Equity Membership Candidate
Lakeland Community College
7700 Clocktower Drive
Kirtland, Ohio 44094
$7-$15 General Admission
Kirtland, Ohio 44094