The new Broadway cast recording of “Violet,” starring Sutton Foster as the title character, is like a present you'll want to unwrap slowly and carefully. On the surface, the show sounds gruesome, and a bit silly (a girl seeks a spiritual healing on a bus ride south for a freak accident which leaves a hideous scar across her face). But listen and you'll be drawn in by the raw talent of everyone in the production: the singing, the acting, the music. Every repeat listening unpacks more of the rich, emotionally complex characters, more of the very funny wordplay in lyrics by Brian Crawley, more depths to Jeanine Tesori's beautiful score. Yes, on a surface level the plot sounds absurd. But “Violet” is so much more than that.
The music and story will stay with you for days after listening – and not just because of Foster, a charismatic powerhouse. Everyone in the cast is superb, with especially strong acting from Joshua Henry (Flick) and Emerson Steele (Young Violet). The bouncy, no-bars-held-back score makes this show something truly special, and unlike anything Broadway has ever seen. Tesori nimbly skips back and forth between many styles of music. Brian Crawley’s lyrics seem to be drawn from the air, coming out of the actors' mouths as smoothly as plain speech. They are conversational, since much of the show is sung through; they’re also very funny. A strong point is “Luck of the Draw,” a buoyant number which shows how Violet, taught by her father, learns to use her wits to overcome her lot in life.
Jeanine Tesori fans who already own the 1997 off-Broadway recording will also want the new album: its sound is clear and crisp compared to the original, with full orchestrations and more dialogue from the show interspersed throughout. The album is in a beautifully packaged two-CD set by PS Classics, which also produced this year's "Fun Home" album, another great score by Tesori.
No one in Spruce Pines will look at Violet, but it’s hard to look away from the magnetic Foster. I had the chance to see the production in concert at City Center before it transferred to Broadway, and it’s a stunning piece of theater that you need to see.